Alfred Drury: The Artist as Curator
- Alfred Drury’s studio (1890s-1900’s) was used as a stage for his visual demonstration of practice to his clients.
- In the arrangement of his studio he demonstrated a wide range of talents, from exhibition ready pieces to modestly sized works intended for private use in a home.
- The display purposely excluded his more monumental works, his larger scale memorials and architectural sculptures.
- It is interesting to note the contrast between the homely display intended for known patrons with the more impressive (and anonymous) exhibition of sculpture for an international crowd that he would exhibit to later on.
- The Paris Exposition Unerverselle of 1900 represented the whole of Drury’s fame as an exhibiting artist- but it was also the occasion for an innovative experiment in artistic self-curation by a fellow sculptor Auguste Rodin.
- Rodin held his own retrospective at the Pavilion de l’Alma alongside the Paris Expoisition, therefore implying a criticism of the institution of the world’s art fair as an effective venue for the display of sculpture.
- A solo exhibition was unusual for a sculptor, which ultimately showed how a loose and open arrangement of works could be equally as successful as the rigidity of official sculpture exhibitions.
- The Drury studio photograph seemed to solve the issue of how to exhibit smaller works within a larger space, use the studio style to house the smaller pieces- taking them out of the ‘white cube’.
- The current use the the white cube space would not fit the more sentimental work of the 1900’s as Drury had achieved with his self curated studio exhibition.
- Grouping together smaller works enhanced their visual impact as a series of composed figures, giving the display greater coherence and a sense of flow through a unforgiving space (white cube).
- Exhibitions always pose problems when judged as art history, as the works of art available to display may achieve a prominence that exceeds their art-historical significance.
- It can be argues, therefore that while exhibitions can be definite in starting clear visual proposition, they can never be definitive.
- In conclusion, the reflections on the experience of curating Alfred Drury:
- 1ST: The difficulty of exhibiting structure- the difficulties of multiple viewpoints, nightlines and lighting.
- 2ND: The issues with the systems of display, and whether to arrange objects strictly according to argument or to maximise visual effect.
- To what extent the aesthetic effect of artworks is enhanced or impeded by the mediating interoperation of the curator is a perennial question and a complicated matter of emphasis.
- The danger of romanticising an object or gesture is that the work of art appear to drive its meaning from the ensemble rather than as an autonomous object in its own right.
- The opposite approach- to detach the artwork from its historical context and present it in a transcendental present- also has its risks.
- Whichever approach is adopted its only presents the work of art in a provisional rather than a permanent arrangement.
When Artists Curate
Experimenting With and Without Curators
- Nicolas Bourriaurd named the exhibition as the place where experimentation is most visible.
- The task of understanding art involved being with artists, and the place where this occurs is in exhibitions.
- Exhibitions come from the same domain as the artists; the frame of understanding overlaps with the moment of self-presentation.
- To be experimental sometimes takes the form of adapting the format of exhibitions and sometimes it is done in the name of exercising free creativity.
- SIMON STARLING ‘NEVER THE
SAME RIVER (POSSIBLE FUTURES, PROBABLE PASTS) 2010-2011.
- An exhibition that represented an imaginative history of institution, in this case one respected by London’s artist community.
- Objects used were placed in the exhibition space in the same spot that they were originally shown during the fifty-year history.
- This created strange juxtaposition between the objects.
- This exhibition suggested chance and random encounters, reminding us that a ‘collage’ of historical events is as likely to produce anomalies as it is sense.
- Starling’s exhibition seems to set works against each other, displacing them not only from their previous exhibition context but from whatever social or historical context they might ordinarily claim.
- On the other hand, it was clear that the exhibition’s structural-concept was a result of explicit choices.
- This form of curating was neutral, the show instead foregrounded other people who has made other decisions at other times.
- The exhibition reduced both artistic and curatorial authority; as a gesture in the form of an exhibition, it remains memorable precisely because it broke with what was expected of an artist-curated show.
- Conventional exhibition- whether due to their architecture, the burden of maintaining a collection, or their requirements to sell art- fail to reproduce close correspondence between showing and what is new about the artworks.
- A challenge of showing contemporary art is how to handle the presence of the artist.
- Elena Filipovic curated a
series of shows, reflecting the relationship between artists and institutions,
hosted in three separate venue and was involved with three different artists.
- At each venture, an exhibition was curated by the museum, and then halfway through the show an artist was invited to re-curate it.
- The project offered different possibilities for curating the work of a single artists, it demonstrated different ways of working with contemporary art and the degree to which curating is an act of interpretation.
- There were many levels of experimentation in this project, from designing an innovative concept for a retrospective exhibition to working sequentially across institutions and individual perspectives.
Museums and Not-Museums
- The museums holds a particular framing device (fictional trope) that allows it a certain level of autonomy.
- For many artists the ‘museum’ points to the history of arts institutionalization and its continues power over contemporary art.
- The museum can be at once be a theme, a symbol, a place, a history, a site of conflict and an unfillable proposition.
- It is a useful and durable concept through which art can engage with how art it exhibited.
- Photography, which was invented more or less at the same historical moment as the museum, was initially put to use to support these ideas, for example by promoting its ideology of universality (page 100).
- Photography got into the museum, it was utterly disruptive because of its nature as a multiple- a readymade.
- Photography was used a tool to intervene in the interpretive protocols dominated by mass communication.
- The museum has done its job.
- It’s not possible to make things in a museum that are radical enough to have a power influence, because the important things have already been done.
Inside the White Cube (The Ideology of the Gallery)
Notes on the Gallery
- The history of modernism is framed by the ‘idealist’ sterile space of the white cube.
- The space is considered before the artwork.
- The ideal gallery subtracts from the artwork all cues that interfere with the fact that it is ‘art’.
- The artwork is isolated from everything that would distract from everything but itself.
- The sanctity of a church, formality of a courtroom and experimental laboratory of a courtroom all come together to produce a unique chamber of aesthetics.
- Anything in such space can become art due to the intense perception put upon them.
- The outside world must not come in.
- Walls are painted white; the ceilings becomes the source of light.
- Shadow less, silent space gives the gallery a limbo like status- the mass of visitors seem out of place- an intrusion.
- Any image seen of a white cube space contains no visitors.
- A paradox is created, a space built to house art completely, yet not welcoming anyone in to see the art.
- Art is kept in complete isolation, a perfect and pristine storage room.
- The French Salon inhabited what a gallery should be: a space with walls full of pictures- the wall itself having no intrinsic value, it’s a means to an end.
- One main issue can be drawn through this hanging method: artwork placed close to the ceiling or the floor both are unseen by viewers.
- The white cube space can offer complete uniformity for all artists, each artist has space to exhibit, no fighting or overcrowding.
- Each painting was seen as self-contained, isolated from its neighbors or its heavy frame, space was discontinuous.
- The 19th Century was taxonomic, categorization became key.
- The way in which paintings are hung makes assumptions about what is offered.
- Once the wall become and aesthetic force- it modified anything placed upon it.
The Eye and the Spectator
- The forces that crushed four
hundred years of illusionism and idealism together and evicted them from the
picture translated deep space into surface tension.
- This surface responds as a field to any mark on it.
- One mark was enough to establish a relationship not so much with the next as with the aesthetic and ideological potency of the blank canvas.
- What went on that surface became the beacon of conflicting ideologies:
- Caught between its substance and its metaphorical potential, paint re-enacted in its material body the residual dilemmas of illusionism.
- A paint became subject, object and process, illusionism was squeezed out of it.
- The mainstream (Cézanne to Colour Field) glides along the wall, measures it with vertical and horizontal coordinates, maintains the propriety of gravity and the upright viewer.
- The mainstream viewer is continually reintroduced to the wall, which in turn supports the canvas- its surface now so sensitive that an objects on would cause it to blink.
- In front is an open space in
which the viewer’s sense of his own presence becomes an increasingly
- The impure space in which he stands is radically changed.
- The picture plane keeps out
reality- it is after all, a form a purity.
- Reality does not conform to the rules of etiquette or subscribe to exclusive values.
- The flow of energy between concepts of space articulated though the artwork and the space we occupy is one of the basic and least understood forces in modernism.
- Modernist space redefines the observer’s status and tinkers with his self-image.
- Space now is not just where things happen; things make space happen.
- If the picture plane defined
the wall, collage begins to define the entire space.
- The fragment from the real world plonked onto the pictures surface.
- Space is not clarified only in the picture, but in the place where the picture hangs- the gallery.
- As we move around that space, looking at walls, avoiding things on the floor, we become aware that the gallery also contains a wandering phantom- the spectator.
- Structure and experience, the city outside, the space inside- spiral around one work: transformation.
- The picture plan is an
idealized transforming space.
- The transformation of objects is contextual, a matter of relocation.
- When isolated, the context of objects is the gallery.
- The gallery itself becomes, like the picture plane, a transforming source.
- All mixed movements have a theatrical component which runs parallel to the gallery space.
- The empty gallery is not
- Its walls are synthesized by the picture plane, its space primed by collage.
- If often feels as if we can no longer experience anything if we don’t alienate it first.
- We objectify and consume art, the to nourish our nonexistent selves or to maintain some aesthetic starveling.
Context as Content
- The unexpected visitor summons anticipation, insecurity, even dread.
- To paint something is to reset it into an illusion, dissolving the frame transferred that function to the gallery space.
- Enough energy is generated to allow both artist and audience to presume they are fulfilling their social roles.
- The artist/audience relation can be seen as the testing of the social order by radical propositions and as the successful absorption of these propositions by the support systems (galleries, museums, collectors etc).
The Gallery as a Gesture
- From the 20’s to the 70’s: the pedestal melted away, leaving the spectator waist-deep in wall-to-wall space.
- As the frame dropped off, space slid across the wall, creating turbulence in the corners.
- Collage flopped out of the picture and settled on the floor as easily as a bag lady.
- All impediments except “art” were removed.
- No longer confined to a zone around the artwork, the new space pushed gently against its confining box.
- Once completed by the withdrawal of all apparent content in the gallery becomes a zero space, infinitely mutable.
- The gallery’s white walls are identified with spirit, filmed over with “pictorial sensitivity’.
- The blanched display case is an epigram on the idea of exhibition; it raises the prospect of serial contexts (in the empty gallery, the display case contains nothing”.
- By making art an artificially within the artificial, it suggests that gallery art is a trinket, a production of the boutique.
Commissioning Contemporary Art (Louisa Buck and Daniel McClean)
Brief History of Commissioning
- There is no single way of commissioning contemporary art: it is in its very nature different to every circumstance.
- The art of commissioning is almost as old as the making of the artwork itself.
- Throughout the centuries various forms of commission have been crucial both for the creation and display of art and for its dissemination into a wider cultural and environmental context.
- Artists have been commissioned for purposes of prestige, propaganda, celebration, commemoration, philanthropy or pleasure- and usually a mixture of all of these- direct patronage has traditionally had a status that extends beyond mere acquisition.
- Public or private, institutional or individual, the process of working with an artist to produce a bespoke piece often denotes a particular level of commitment and discernment that can elevate the act the the highest level of artistic and cultural engagement.
- Commissioning art has therefore always been an effective means for patrons to ensure a good image for posterity.
- Dominique and Jean de Menil brought a time- honoured practice of commissioning art alongside collecting into the late twentieth century.
- Unlike the monarchs and statesman of the previous centuries, the De Menil’s starting point was the arts itself and its impact on the viewer.
- This desire to make art an intense and personal experience points to a vital realignment on the part of the patron, which lies at the heart of the best contemporary commissions up to the present day.
- According to Dominique de Menil, the aim of the couple was to “preserve some of the intimacy we had enjoyed with the works of art”.
- This philanthropic desire to open up a privileged private experience to a wider audience can be traced back to the emergence of the public art gallery during the 18th and 19th centuries and its attendant concern with making art appreciation accessible to the whole of society.
- The market economy boomed after WW2, commercial companies and corporations increasingly began to acquire and commission art in a similar manner to the great courts and noble families of earlier centuries.
- While companies dip and dive, companies continue to recognise the benefits in terms of profile, image- enhancement and workforce satisfaction that can accrue from having artists produce pieces specifically for their premises, even if, when times are leaner, they may choose to reduce their commissioning activities.
- In recent years, commissions have often been linked to a place as well as to a patron.
- In the greatly expanded global art world of the 21st Century, commissioning is now just one amount many means of obtaining art, yet the adventures commissioning of a radical artwork is widely considered to be amount the most prestigious form of patronage, in contrast to acquiring work that had already been produced.
- Today’s various commissioning models are not neatly and mutually exclusive.
- Both conceptually and practically, the commission of contemporary art have become an increasingly complex affair.
- Elements from different commissions models are often combined to enable a particular project: for example, a private individual or a group of patrons may co-sponsor a project for a civic site or partner with a commissioning organisation, while public museums across the world increasingly rely on partnerships with private patrons and the commercial sector to enable them to achieve particular commissions.
- Alongside the greatly expanded range of options and opportunities for commissioning, the art itself is also now infinitely more varied than the paintings and sculpture of previous centuries.
- In many of today’s commissions, the permanent and monumental has been replaced by the temporary, the ephemeral and the immaterial.
- Increasingly, there has been a burgeoning of performative ‘live’ commissions that work with site, event and situation in radical ways beyond the traditional art object as we understand it.
- Yet whatever the motivation, the medium of the era, at the heart of any commission lies the relationship between artist and patron.
- This has always been delicate and potentially volatile dynamic requiring careful management with a strong element of risk, although with the promise of great benefits.
- Today is can be complex and long-drawn-out process to commission an artist, especially a well known one, to produce a unique piece.
- At other points, however the artist has been more beholden to the patron: The Renaissance may have ushered the notion of the artist as a distinct autonomous individual as opposed to the usually anonymous medieval artisan, but even in the highest profile commissions what would now be regarded as the demeaning of great talent was standard practice.
- The emergence of new social forms in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution and saw gradual shift away from the European patronage system towards the evolution of a fully fledged art market where artworks were individually brought and sold.
- Accordingly, artists were increasingly esteemed for their originality of vision, rather than their particular skills.
- This growing autonomy and authority of the artist coloured not only the development of contemporary art, but also the attitude of the artist towards patronage.
- While commissions still took place, they increasingly tended to be portraits or more conventional decorative schemes, with the work of more progressive artists often proving to be less immediately conductive to the desires of the patron and the sometimes limited parameters of the commissioning process.
- Now that artists are being commissioned to produce multimedia works both temporary and permanent, and for museums, biennials and domestic spaces as well as within a public realm that can span from the traditional plaza to cyberspace, what has always been complex activity has now become ever more intricate and freighted with ethical, legal and financial considerations.
Why Undertake a Commission? THE PATRONS PERSPECTIVE
- Various protocols, procedures and agendas in sourcing and approaching artists through public and commercial galleries, art consultants and art fairs all require careful negotiation, alongside the need to grapple with the countless forms and concepts of contemporary art.
- As a result, specialist curators, commissioning consultants, independent producers and commissioning agencies increasingly play a key role played in the process.
- What distinguishes a commissioner to a normal purchaser of contemporary art? It is not simply a matter of acquisition, since many of today’s commissioned artworks are brought into existence for reasons other than individual ownership.
- Forging a relationship with an artist: can involve an intense relationship with the artist, the patron- whether public body, commercial organization, private foundation or an individual- can both actor in and witness to the artist’s vision.
- Creating a Culture: due to the nature of the commission, it carries with the excitement of being involved in bringing something new and unknown into the world, and thus potentially having a direct role in adding to art history.
- Adding luster and a spirit of adventure: the commissioned artist is highly regarded, then their prestige can in turn reflect favorably on the patron.
- Enhancing the environment: the ability to improve people’s surroundings by commissioning an artwork is a desire for many commissioners and artists.
- Integrating art into architecture: the conventional approach is for the architecture and/ or client to specify the location for an art commission within the building or development, but increasingly architects are inviting artists to be team members from the start of working with consultants to appoint artists as early in the process as feasible: the latter approach being crucial if the client and architects wish to solicit several design proposals before making a choice.
- The power of regeneration: many commissions are developed not only to enhance an environment, but also to play an active role in regenerating the surrounding public realm.
- Fulfilling planning obligations: ‘Per cent for art’ policies are traditionally the largest single reason why artworks get commissioned in the public rhealm- many countries operate such schemes in which public bodies (public transport, health authorities, etc) either choose or are required by law to donate a small percentage of refurbishment budgets to commission artists.
- The art of placemaking: art commissions set within the ‘ideal place’ of the sculpture park can sometimes extend to the artist being invited to design the entire place itself. In societies where there is little or no ‘critical mass’ of institutional or commercial frameworks for contemporary art, the act of commissioning can be crucial in finding a place for art and in giving it both relevance and an audience.
- Commissions enable artists to make work when other important support structures, such as galleries, collectors and museums, do not exist.
- Commemoration and celebration: the commemoration of an individual with a sculpture or painting or the celebration of an event with a memorial still drive many commissions.
- Commissioned portraiture is one of the oldest forms of commemorative art and every year innumerable individuals are portrayed to order, with their likeness preserved using the most traditional or painterly and sculptural techniques.
Why Undertake a Commission? THE ARTISTS PERSPECTIVE
- Make your dreams come true: commissions enable artists to create ambitious works that might not otherwise be possible, the commissioner can give artist access to specialist technical, curatorial and practical support, as well as funds.
- Commissioning suits the practice: with many artists producing elaborate installations, architectural interventions or ambitions film pieces, the only way that these expensive and space-hungry works can come into being is through the act of commissioning.
- Reaching different audiences: commissions in public and/or outdoor spaces can expose an artist’s work to a greatly expanded audience and one far beyond the art world. Many artists believe that in the importance of making art available to members of the public who would not necessarily visit a gallery or museum.
- Triggers for change in practice: artists often find that the challenge of a commission can inspire new developments in their work which can alter their career trajectory and send their practice in new and unexpected directions.
- New Partnerships: collaborations with new mediums and medias can again propel practices in new directions.
- Increased recognition: the recognition that accompanies a high-profile commission can provide a valuable boost for artist and open them up to a range of new opportunity. Public commissions, in particular, can attract wide- spread coverage in diverse sectors of the media.
Guiding Principles: THE COMMISIONER
- Know your intentions: it is important to have a clear idea why the work is being commissioned and not simply being brought, the intentions and process must be clear. The best commissions are born not only from a deep engagement with the art but also from an awareness on the part of the commissioner as to what kind of artist and work chime with their aspirations.
- Seek best advice: a curator of public gallery may know of the best or most suitable artists to consider, many would-be patrons wishing to commission new site-specific artworks readily admit that they have neither the specialist knowledge nor the time to initiate and manage the commissioning process. A commissioning agent on the other hand, will have the know-how and will be fully equipped to organize the entire process from start to completion. It is important to select an independent curator whose first commitment is to the art, rather than to the commissioning client.
- Work with the artist: the commissioner has be prepared to enter into a relationship with an artist that is almost similar to a marriage and can often require similar management in all aspects. Even though this relationship can be less fraught is a commissioning agent is involved to mediate and facilitate between artist and client, clarify of intention and communication are nonetheless essential.
- Be prepared for some changes: carefully considered and implemented, for both commissioner and artist alike, a commission represents a leap into the unknown. There should be a degree of fluidity at many levels: the artists’ ideas can change during the early development stages, and the technical realities or constraints of production may mean that the outcome is different from that was expected for hoped for.
- Commit to all stages: a successful project must be managed at every stage from its inception to its afterlife, with the custodian as well as investigator.
Guiding Principles: THE ARTIST
- Know what you want: a work might evolve over the commission process, but it is vital that the artist maintains a clear idea of that they and the commissioner expects from the outcome. No matter how open the project, there are always constraints in the commission process, ranging from physical and financial limits to health and safety regulations.
The Moving Image:
- With film and video assuming ever more significant status as an art form, institutions are commissioning an increasing amount of time-based work.
- When film and video works are commissioned, it is often necessary to involve a large number of investors and practical supporters, and then institutional curator has to well versed in these practical and fundraising aspects.
- However, the emphasis also differs from that of a conventional film producer, as an institutional curator will also often be expected to work closely with the artist and provide creative input.