A Brief History of Curating


An interesting attempt, through a number of interviews with veteran curators Hans Ulrich Obrist drafts in this book a deliberately fragmentary history of curating, full of amusing stories and anecdotes. The form of this peculiar book is outstandingly interesting, resonating with many philosophical and literary thematics of import.

Understandably, in this publication that is in fact an anthology of 11 interviews HUO conducted a while back – already this transformation and repetition of the proper name of the author, which is very typical of HUO’s publications, is alarming – the task and responsibility of narrating a general and generalized brief history of curating is left up to the preface. Only the author of the preface is granted with the right and authority to speak as if to speak outside of the field he is speaking of is possible. Not that the history and the question of the role of the curator are left completely untouched in the interviews, but Christophe Cherix provided a constructed base, provisional or not, on which further constructions and destructions become possible in the space of the book.


Carefully, one is to leave this book with an impression that, curatorial practices is already at work in this book, as if this book is itself an exhibition – freed from the limited definition of this term. Cherix’s position in the book even proposes excitingly the possibility of curatorial practice within curatorial practice. That is, a curatorial practice mise en abyme: curating curating (curating and it goes on). Only this possibility, one is tempted to assert, can justify the independence curatorial practice or curating (the difference between the two is still today baffling to many), from art and from exhibition. A recent inspiring example of this is the exhibition History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain in the Hayward Gallery, London, curiously titled in a similar fashion.

The time of the book is no less interesting. Firstly, for a book ambitiously titled “A Brief History Of…”, recalling Stephen Hawking’s great work, it in fact can be read against any linear sequence. Of course this is only made possible by the nature of the form of anthology (and this form somehow cannot help but add to the suspicion that HUO has been reluctant about writing a book proper), but this peculiarity of the publication again opens a very interesting path, betraying to a certain extent the testimonies made by HUO himself and the veteran curators: as a discipline and profession that is related to art, and especially to the radicalization of it, curating meets historical or historicist readings of itself more with a deflection.

Also, the second layer of the time of the book: the curators listed here in the book are – or were – not young. In a book titled as such – forgive us for speaking of the title time and again, but the significance of the title really cannot be underestimated, perhaps more significant than titles that do not attempt to pose confrontational problematics to the totality of the book – there is an absence of younger curators, those exposed more to the future than the complex past; but the ages of the curators present in the book (the youngest was Anne d’Harnoncourt, born in 1943) support the structure of an, indeed as title of the last chapter has it, “archeology”: a younger person seeking knowledge, truth and history that are from the past, distant, remote, on the verge of being forgotten, buried for good with the deceased, and are subject to a retrieval that could only be fragmentary. In a way, not unlike Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in Derrida’s Archive Fever. “To the memory of Anne d’Harnoncourt, Walter Hopps, Pontus Hulten, Jean Leering, Franz Meyer, and Harald Szeemann” – already this second list of absence and mourning counters the first list of presence, increases its own length, counts itself again and again patiently. It already negatively but actively answers the call for the death of the curator. Independent and parasitic at once, the death of the author needs no extraneous force other than that of time.

But certainly, an auto-affection is not absent in a book of such nature. Nobody else is as familiar with all of the interviews included in this publication, but perhaps nobody else is as interested in the interviews in its totality as well, given also that the interviews were conducted quite a long time ago, a good number of them already published previously. In this sense, this is also an archeology that pertains to the author himself, digging up previous efforts that are hopefully to gain more importance as time goes, as life goes.

The form of the recently published Ways of Curating (Penguin Books, 2015) by the author soon proved to be no less interesting. The prologue itself resists the usual form of post-preface, and is very much autobiographical, narrating HUO’s life since when he was sixteen, while involving a number of important names. To some people’s delight, HUO does not “believe in the creativity of the curator. I don’t think that the exhibition-maker has brilliant ideas around which the works of artists must fit. Instead, the process always starts with a conversation, in which I ask the artists what their unrealized projects are, and then the task is to find the means to realize them.” Or, in another place, “…curating follows art.” To my delight, the Latin etymological root of curate is also introduced: curare – to take care of, as I have written in a recent article also included in this issue. Also, more importantly, perhaps, this author who writes as if he is in fact curating in writing, remembers on this occasion the great David Weiss, truly extending the list of remembrance that he started.

資深策展人漢斯·烏爾裏希·奧布裏斯特(Hans Ulrich Obrist)在本書中進行了有趣的嘗試-根據大量的訪談資料,他刻意將策展史編撰成松散的片段,其中充滿了耐人尋味的奇聞軼事,並與許多重要的當代哲學及文學命題相呼應。

《策展簡史》實際上是“HUO”在過去的許多年內11次訪談的文選,而這個名字縮寫極度頻繁的出現聳動了某種傳統的歷史敘事方式-。序言部分交代了編撰這本廣義上策展史的任務和使命,而這重要的解釋性內容不出現在正文之中則加深了本書作為對於某段歷史回顧的實驗性質。所有正文不選擇正面地、絕對地回答的問題,都可以在克裏斯多夫·切利克斯(Christophe Cherix)完成的序言中找到答案。在此基礎上,正文部分進行了深入的建設和解構。

讓人驚訝的,小漢斯沒有把這本書當作與當代藝術展覽完全不同的形式來處理;他已然在書中進行了某種策展實踐,仿佛整本書就是一個展覽,他徹底將“展覽”這個詞從限定的解釋中解放出來。切利克斯甚至還提議了一項頗具挑戰的可能性——處於策展實踐中的策展實踐,就像是“俄羅斯套娃”:在展覽中得以繼續策展的策展實踐。也只有這種做法,才能明確地為策展實踐的獨立性給出方案——這策展實踐不再是絕對依附於藝術甚至於展覽之上,而是一種獨立的、能夠在自身之中繼續發展的學科。以近期一個代表性的展覽為例,倫敦海沃德畫廊(Hayward Gallery)《歷史再現:七位藝術家眼中的英國(History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain)》就巧妙地采用了類似的“套娃”模式,在一個大的策展實踐框架之內進行有着豐富多樣性的策展實踐。

文選中時間的線索同樣不失趣味。儘管書名《XX簡史(A Brief History Of…)》令人不禁想起斯蒂芬·霍金(Stephen Hawking)的著作,但事實上它沒有鮮明的時間導覽順序,讀者可以根據閱讀習慣從任意章節入手,這與文選這種書籍形式自身的特性有關(或多或少惹人懷疑筆者不願編撰一本嚴格意義上正統的書籍)。有趣的是,這種另闢蹊徑的做法在一定程度上背離了作者本人和其他資深策展人的初衷:作為一門與激進藝術相關的學科和專業藝術實踐在這本書中躲閃了歷史性的或歷史主義式的解讀。

其次,書中列舉的全是老一輩策展人,其中最年輕的是安妮·德·哈農庫特(Anne d’Harnoncourt),出生於1943年。(原諒我需要重提書名這件事,但本書書名與內容的獨特對立關係不容小覷)一本以“簡史”命名的書籍全盤忽略了新興策展人們,這些未來的棟梁之材。但老一輩策展人所處的時代正好呼應了本書的最後章節的名稱,《考古》:出生於上个世紀60年代的HUO在“考古”,在遙遠的過去中探詢知識、真相以及歷史,以從遺忘、埋葬以及死亡之中挽救這些過去,儘管這種挽救行為只能打撈起歷史的碎片。在某種程度上,HUO就像是雅克·德裏達(Jacques Derrida)於《檔案狂熱(Archive Fever)》之中描述的猶太歷史學者尤瑟夫·耶魯沙爾米(Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi)-為了一個譜系的位置而不遺餘力。“謹以此紀念安妮·德·哈農庫特、沃爾特·霍普斯(Walter Hopps)、蓬杜·於丹(Pontus Hulten)、讓·裏爾寧(Jean Leering)、弗朗茲·梅耶(Franz Meyer)和哈羅德·塞曼(Harald Szeemann)。這份悼念性的、有關“不在場”的名單急切或耐心地等待著回應書中的另一份名冊-“在場”名單,既消極又主動地宣布了策展人以及這種特殊身份的死訊。無論是獨立的或是寄生的,“策展人”的死亡-如果作者的死亡、藝術家的死亡、哲學的死亡一般-都只是時間問題而已。在這個意義上,這本書在直接地、毫不避諱地討論著歷史。


小漢斯最近出版的《策展的方式(Ways of Curating)(企鵝出版社(Penguin Books),2015)》同樣具備高度的品讀價值。序言本身並沒有採用一般的“後序”形式,而是以自傳體的形式敘述了作者與藝術家的關係,在藝術中的生涯-打16歲之後的生活開始說起。其中也提到了很多重要人物。令人欣喜的是,作者有着很明確的、政治正確的觀點:“我不相信‘策展人的創造力’這回事。我不認為策劃展覽的人有什麽奇思妙想能完全匹配藝術家的作品。策展應當從對談開始,首先我會問藝術家有什麼未實現的計劃,然後我再想方設法實現它。”文中另一處也提到:“……策展尾隨著藝術。”“策展”,“curate”一詞在拉丁語詞源中為“curare”-照看、關照,在本期專題的另一篇文章中我也提到了這點。對於我來說,更重要的是,這位成功地將寫作轉變為某種策展實踐的人物也沒有忘記在這本書的開頭向偉大的藝術家大衛·魏斯(David Weiss)致敬,真正地延續了藝術、死亡與歷史的關係。