From Selector to Curator

Interview with Marko Daniel



Marko Daniel is Convenor of Public Programmes at Tate Modern and Tate Britain. In 2014, he was curator of the 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale: We have never participated. He was co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape (Tate Modern, 2011; Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona; and National Gallery of Art, Washington). He was curator of a solo show by Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-Jen at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester (2010) and Vice-Chair of the London Consortium, a unique collaboration between the Architectural Association, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Science Museum, Birkbeck College and Tate that offers interdisciplinary research programmes in the humanities. Marko Daniel is a member of the Academic Committee of OCAT Shenzhen. He completed his PhD on Art and propaganda: The battle for cultural property in the Spanish Civil War at the University of Essex in 1999.

馬可·丹尼爾是泰特現代美術館和泰特英國美術館的公共項目召集人。2014年,丹尼爾擔任第八屆深圳雕塑雙年展“我們從未參與(We have never participated)”的策展人;2011年,他是“胡安·米羅:逃亡之梯(Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape)”展覽的聯合策展人,該展覽在英國泰特現代美術館,巴塞羅納胡安·米羅基金會以及華盛頓國家美術畫廊進行巡展;2010年,丹尼爾為台灣藝術家陳界仁在曼城華人當代藝術中心的個展擔任策展人;他還是倫敦聯盟(London Consortium)--一個由建築聯盟學院、當代藝術研究學會、科學博物館、倫敦大學伯貝克學院以及泰特美術館聯合創辦的跨學科人文研究項目--的主席;丹尼爾同時也是深圳OCAT的學術委員會一員。他於1999年在埃塞克斯大學完成博士學位,課題是“藝術與宣傳:西班牙內戰中的文化財產之爭“。



ART.ZIP:How would you describe the current situation of artist, curator, and artist as curator in the UK now?

MD:It is a very interesting and complex question. I think the current notion of a curator has only come into existence in the last 20, 30 years. When I worked on my first exhibition project here in London in 1995, we were not called curators, but selectors; we used a completely different term. At that point, the curator was somebody who worked in a museum and looked after the works in its collection. So this “looking after” side was most important. This included research into the history of the object, but also physically looking after it, making sure it was in good condition, and knowing what its provenance was. At that point, somebody who worked on exhibitions was identified by reference to the fact that they chose works of art for a project and selection. Since then, the word ‘curator’ has become incredibly widespread.

About 10 years ago, Tate was very actively involved in a PhD programme here called the London Consortium, which was a collaboration between Tate and other institutions like ICA, Architectural Association, Birkbeck University of London, and subsequently the Science Museum. In that collaborative project, we realized that people were more and more interested in the notion of curating. People started curating things that were not art. First, in the museums, it was not just the people who were looking after the permanent collection, but also people who were making exhibitions. Then people who worked in the learning department were said to be curating events, they were curating the film programme, and it then extended from that.

Apple is perhaps the most famous brand because they started ‘curating’ Apps, so that when you go to the App Store it offers you a selection of Applications to use. In a way, computers began to curate an experience for you. It is a really interesting comparison actually with 20 years ago, say; if you wanted to see examples of video art, it was very, very hard to find anything. Finding them, getting physical access to that material required a lot of research and resources; you needed to travel to get it. Now if you want to see anything or hear any music, you can go online, it’s all there. So when you are growing up now, the problem is not how to get access to a blues song that was written in the 1930s, of which there are maybe one or two recordings. But actually now you don’t need to find the material, you need to find out what you want to listen to. So now what we are dealing with is the curation of knowledge.

Everything is actually much more easily accessible, and the most important thing now becomes how do you get access to it? What do you want? There is so much information that somebody needs to help you narrow down the selection. And that itself is the process of curation. As a context this is really useful because it allows you to think about the way in which we use the term ‘curator’ for people who have a specialist knowledge. For example, you might go to a particular blog, because the person who writes it selects really interesting songs. Now I could find the songs myself, but I wouldn’t know where to begin. So I go to that blog and I get a selection readymade for me.

We are looking at two different kinds of selection here, one is simply based on knowledge and research, and the other one is based on taste. The two kinds go together. What we are looking at when we are dealing with curation is different motivations for making a selection of works. So maybe this is the most significant difference between the ways in which professional museum curators work and artists who are also curators. What do they offer the audience that comes to their exhibitions? It is the way in which artists and, to a greater or lesser extent independent curators, bring their own sensibilities to the selecting of artwork.

But particularly when you come to institutions like Tate, one of the main goals that we have in curating is to help the work of the artist to become visible in the best possible fashion. So in an institution like Tate you are dealing with something that is quite different from the celebrity curator. Celebrity curators may sometimes confuse their role with being an artist themselves, as if their exhibitions were works of art by themselves. I think in institutions like ours, we tend to be very cautious about that, because we think the most important element to deal with is the work of the artist, and we need to show that to the audience as best possible.

ART.ZIP: The curator plays a very significant role in presenting artwork to the public, do you think in this case the curator has a certain kind of superpower in showing art to the world?

Many people believe that, and if I take this to the extreme you could say that whether something is art or not is decided by the curator. According to this very extreme version of this argument the institution of the museum has a great deal of power. In the caricature version, when we decide to put something on display as art, the artists should consider themselves lucky to be selected by Tate. I am caricaturing this position specifically because I don’t think it’s true.

From the 1950s onwards philosophers writing about art developed the “institutional theory of art” in which they argued that whether something is a work of art or not, does not depend on anything that’s inherent in the work. It also doesn’t depend on the efforts that the artist puts into making the work, or special attributes that the artist gives the work that they made. Rather, whether something is art or not depends on a collective decision by the art world to consider it art. It is a very powerful argument as well as powerful critique, because according to it ultimately there’s nothing essential in the artwork that really makes it art. If the artist, commercial galleries, museums, art critics, collectors, and the public all agree that it is art, then it is art. One of the problems with this theory is how do you become part of the art world? How do you make the decision whether something is art? It could be seen as a very self-referential theory.

Another criticism that could be made on the basis of the constituency of the art world is that you are practically looking at the whole world, because you are talking about the artist, the art gallery, the dealer, the museum, the art journalist, the art critic, the curator and the public. The moment you include everybody you are back to square one. To some extent, it quite accurately reflects where we are now, which is that there are many works of art which some people consider to be works of art, but other people might just simply turn around and say ‘I don’t agree, for me it isn’t a work of art.’ At this point you could ask ‘Does it matter?’ You could change the question around a little bit and say ‘what happens when you consider it as a work of art?’ If you consider it as a work of art, that can change the way in which you look at the world, that can change the way in which you think, change the way in which you are able to see other things in the world. I think this is a very useful way of trying to cut through this dilemma.

But to come back to your question, whether the curator has a superpower. The curator can’t just put anything in the museum, and people will not just come automatically and accept it. It’s not as simple as that. I think we have to assume that it’s a very complex eco-system, where, if you are making a proposition, saying ‘I want this work to be considered art’ and nobody agrees with you, and the public doesn’t come, then you’ve got a problem. You haven’t got a superpower. You only have the ability to work within a certain horizon of expectations. And within that horizon of expectations, you can try and change what the people think, and change what people consider art or not. Some people are very good at doing this slightly more radically than others, some people are very good at persuading others and presenting a good argument for why something should be seen as art, and get other people to see it. But sometimes it is a much bigger task, it is much more difficult; and other times you have something that becomes incredibly popular as an art form and then a few years later nobody cares about it anymore. So is there a simple superpower, a superpower that has permanent effects? No.

The way in which the artist sees the world, and changes the way in which we see the world, is really powerful. Curators are playing a secondary or even third level role to this.. That’s one of the most important things in this.

Guerrilla Girls Frida Kahlo at TateModern 2006

ART.ZIP: What’s your curating principle as an institutional curator?

I think research is incredibly important. Until very recently, maybe it’s still the case in major museums, to work in an institution like this you needed a university qualification that was research-based. I think curatorial studies programmes have only come into play quite recently, and the most important skill you need to have as a person working in a museum like this is the ability to carry out research, as it always underpins the work that we are doing. Here we have two main strengths in relation to art, one is the building of the collection, and the other one is the making of exhibitions. Both equally depend on research. You can not make a decision about which artist is in need of an exhibition, unless you are able to judge what the alternatives are. Why we would choose Marlene Dumas, for example, as an artist? What are the factors that go into making that decision? And so you really need to understand the global picture of art making, and you need to understand what the role of painting is in contemporary art. Why would we do a big solo show of an artist who paints now when so many others do not? And why her if we are looking at painting? All those factors ultimately are based on research, on the understanding of the international situation of the art world. Why do this at Tate? Other large venues in London like Hayward Gallery or Royal Academy of Arts, they do different kinds of exhibitions, always with research-based approach, but they have their own criteria for making decisions. What makes Marlene Dumas a really significant artist for us to show in relation to other art that is being made now and other art that has been made? In theoretical terms, I would talk about the synchronic and the diachronic. The synchronic means everything that’s happening at the same moment in time, so we need to see where the artist fits into the picture, and the diachronic refers the developments across time – historically, what are the historical developments that suggest that to show Marlene Dumas at this point is right.

We could unpack this a lot more, in terms of the way in which museums work internationally and in London, by thinking about what chance we have got of actually making an exhibition that the public wants to see. Because if we do a really significant exhibition of the artist and nobody is interested in it, if we can’t make that connection between the art that we put on show and the section of the public that we hope will come to see it, then we have a problem. So for Dumas, we are really, really happy that there are incredibly positive responses to the show. And sometimes we do some other exhibitions which are perhaps more difficult, where we know in advance that we will get a much smaller number of people coming to see the exhibition, but it’s still worth it, because of where the artist’s work fits at this moment in time and across time.

ART.ZIP: Do you see any limitations for an institutional curator?

I think for everybody who works in an institution there are tremendous advantages and sometimes also disadvantages. As an individual, you need to make the decision whether that is where you want to be, and whether that is what you want to do. In terms of the advantages, there are quite simply the resources, there are certain things you can do when working in an institution that are very, very hard when working independently. When you are working independently, you have to spend a lot of time trying to find partners and resources, the money for the next project. And when you do that, each of the partners you work with will have their own ideas, so you’ll find an institution saying ‘that’s a very good project, but can you do it more like this?’ or somebody who sponsored the exhibition will want to add their suggestions, so by the end of it your project is subject to constraints, even when you’re working independently. I think people sometimes romanticize the work of the independent curator in the same way that people romanticize the work of the artist: the artist is somebody who is completely free from external influence and works in his or her studio. That is obviously not the case, and it is not the case for an independent curator either. And for institutional curators of course, the institutional constraints are, to some extent, a given, so there’s a certain continuity that makes it sometimes easier to develop new projects. We also cannot forget the visibility, the resources and the responsibilities that come with working in a big institution. For me that is something I think about every day, I think all my colleagues are the same, we know that we work for a museum that has a big international standing and so when you make a decision about what to do, which artist to work with, you are always aware that you have the responsibility, in our case, to the people. In the British case, it is a very clear relationship: Tate is a national museum, and that means we are ultimately responsible to the public, to everyone. That means you need to think very carefully about which way you operate and I think largely that is a good thing because when you are faced with constraints, you ought to feel the responsibility to the people and you need to be able to defend the project.

This is not quite what your question started out as, but I often think that when you are working in an institutional context, whether it’s a freelance or as an employee of the institution, one of your main roles in working with contemporary art is to be an intermediary between the artist and the institution, with a view to making the project better. It is not to reduce the project or cut it down in response to institutional demand, but it’s to defend the concept, the idea and the realization of the project from the artist to the institution. And you have to mediate with the artist, so that by working with you they share the responsibility to the public. This is a very interesting aspect – how do you make sure the vision of the artist and the potential of the artwork is realized to the fullest in a particular context, where there are, as there always are, an apparatus, boundaries, and limits.

ART.ZIP: How do you perceive the evolution of curatorial roles at Tate?

I think you will be really interested to see what we do when we open the new building. Before I talked about the synchronic and the diachronic; in this context we are thinking about what is going on in the art world right now. We are thinking how we can connect what it is going on in the contemporary art world right now with the history of art, particularly with the history of art that Tate represents, throughout the collection. So what we are seeing now is really a normalization of globalization. Globalization a few years ago, a decade ago, was exciting and new and something we were struggling to get to terms with.

We are now in a situation that when we are talking about any kind of idea, it is almost impossible to think about it as something where we don’t automatically take an international and planetary dimension into consideration. So normalization is very important. When Tate Modern opened as a museum of international modern and contemporary art, we realized our collection was very much focused on European and North American art. So before 2000 – this is a little bit of exaggeration, although it is still surprisingly accurate description of what we had before 2000 – international art, meant European and North American. It was after 2000 that we realized we had many gaps in our knowledge that we needed to address and fill and we’ve worked hard on that. So when the new building opens, we really want to try and show you how a normalization of globalization can happen. We do not make a “special” case for it, we don’t say, “look, there’s a Brazilian artist, oh, that’s so exciting”. No, there is a Brazilian artist because a Brazilian artist was making the most significant work in that context. And we display Japanese artists, Chinese artists over there, because they were the ones who made the most significant work in that area. Not because there is an exotic excitement about that, but because that is actually the fact. You could also talk about it as the fact of globalization rather than the desire of globalization. I think 15 years ago we were talking about something that was much more an exotic desire and now we are talking of something that is more of a fact.

ART.ZIP: What do you think of the relationship between artist and curator?

I’ve worked with historic exhibitions, like the Miró exhibition, where the artist is no longer alive, so you yourself, through research, need to make sure that you represent the work of the artist fairly, accurately and correctly. And then within that you can give rein to your curatorial curiosity and creativity, and try to show the work in a way that helps the understanding and experience of the work, but it needs to be tight, very solidly about facts.

When you are working with contemporary artists, the situation is very different, because the artist is there, and you work in partnership with them. As a curator working in partnership with an artist, you really need to think about what the project is, what you are really trying to achieve, and how you can best achieve that. So for me, depending on the context in which you work, you will need to find different ways of helping the project become realized. On a conceptual level, my role is to make sure the exhibition project is as clearly communicated to the artist as possible and that there is a dialogue between me and the artist about their work and, particularly in a new commission, how that work is developed. The artist obviously has to have the final say, that is very important. So your role is very much about engaging in conversation and negotiating with the artist, while at the same time it is about negotiating with all the external factors, whether you are making the work for a biennale, or for a small exhibition, or as a work that appears in public, somewhere in a park, in a square, in a shopping centre or the top floor of a car park, it could be anywhere. You need to think about the relationships. So it is very much about becoming aware of multiple relationships that you channel between the artist and all the other stakeholders in this relationship.

There is another really interesting aspect to the relationship when you are working with a contemporary artist, but you are working with pre-existing work. I think there are different approaches where sometimes the curator can be in danger of having an idea or a concept for an exhibition and they look to artists for ways of exemplifying their concepts. So for me there is a question of priorities there. If you have such a strong idea that you practically think your idea is a work of art and you use artworks almost as your raw material, I don’t like that. I think that is not respectful to the artwork or the artist.

I am keen on developing a way of working with the artist, where the artist feels the particularity and significance of their artwork is respected. Say I select three artists as the most significant ones in relation to a curatorial concept but the more I study their work, the more I realize that my concept doesn’t quite fit, then my concept is wrong, and I need to adjust it. You could almost think of it as a kind of dialectical process. I have an initial idea, I go to artists, test my initial idea and I realize my idea needs to change. I bring more artists in, and then my concept needs to constantly tweak a little more. So if I think about the way in which an exhibition comes together in the process of discussing and working with artists, I realize that by the time the exhibition opens, it is the exhibition and concept that has emerged out of the process of working together. If I started from the same initial idea the following day and talked to different artists, the exhibition and concept would end up being different, because they are mutually co-developed. I think that is a really interesting process.

ART.ZIP: In terms of audience development what do you do as a curator to help audiences to understand the work?

Due to my own background, because I come through the public programmes team of Tate, working with the public is really important. I think the way in which the public has a role to play in the experience of art is absolutely essential and that happens on many different levels. To some extent you could talk about the expectations of interactive or participatory art practice where the audience are actively involved in the making of art, the realization of the art, but I think we don’t have to go to that extreme, because it is equally significant in all projects. In terms of the way in which the exhibition as an organism communicates with the audience it is about the way you design spaces, it is about the way that language provides information, through labels and texts, and other ways of making the experience of the works of art and the exhibition itself part of the curatorial work. So on one hand you have the experience of the individual work of art, which is normally determined by the artist. It sets certain parameters; for example the artist will have an idea of how that should be done, it could be in the most general terms that ‘I made a painting and we hang it on the wall, you look at it’. But even with this very basic example, there are many different ways in which that experience could be structured. And then on a bigger scale there is the question of the experience of the exhibition as a whole, with all the other dimensions to it.

8. What steps is Tate Modern making to address the gender imbalance of their collection?

I should start with an anecdote: the first month I worked at Tate was in 2006, and I worked with the American activist group the Guerilla Girls. They did a workshop here with us and they wanted to talk to young artists who were interested in making works like them. It was a great project, and we had their work on display in the galleries, and they wrote and said, “we want to run this as a master class.” I thought, the language was very gendered, very male and was surprised as they are so much more radical than that. Calling it a master class seemed very old-fashioned. They said, “you have to call it a master class, all the posters have to say master class.” And I thought, they are weird. Then the day before the master class, they came into the gallery, wearing black clothing with their gorilla masks on, and they had these big felt pens for graffiti and went through the entire building and crossed out the word master and wrote mistress on every poster for the workshop. So they set us up. Of course what they were really interested in at that point was exactly that they were concerned about the way in which art collections are overwhelmingly male. The fact is, over the last few years, we have tried to address this, we are trying to address this in a way without making a song and dance about it. We want to promote women artists, we want to make exhibitions with really good artists and we hope that we can achieve a much better balance. And while, for example, last year, we had Malevich, Matisse, Polke, all men, this year it is all women, we’ve got Dumas, we’ve got Agnes Martin and Barbara Hepworth coming up, you don’t have to have balance at every point, but it needs to work out over time.

134-delau 2011 Naked 2mb

MD:這是一個非常有趣而複雜的問題。我清楚策展人是在過去二三十年內出現的年輕專業。我在1995年於倫敦進行了我的第一个展覽項目,那是二十年前的事情了,那時我不被稱作是策展人,而是“選擇者”-所以在過去我們使用了完全不同的辭彙。在那個時候,策展人在博物館內工作,負責照看藏品。所以,“照看”工作就是最重要的工作,我們需要對於藝術品或文物的歷史進行研究,但同時需要照看它們,確保它們保存良好,了解它們的出處,並好好地照看這些物件。在那個時候,在一個展覽之中工作意味著:你手頭上有很多的藝術品,而你要選出你希望放到一起去展示的那些,而這就是當時工作的標準。自那時開始, “策展人”一詞便被大量地傳播開來。

大約十年前,泰特美術館開始積極地參與名為倫敦聯盟(London Consortium)的博士學位研究項目,這個項目的合作者包括了泰特美術館、當代藝術研究學會(ICA)、建築聯盟學院(Architectural Association)、倫敦大學伯貝克學院(Birkbeck University of London)以及隨後加入的科學博物館(Science Museum)。在這個合作項目中,我們意識到人們對於策展實踐越發感興趣。人們開始為不屬於藝術範疇的事物策劃展覽。首先,在美術館中,不僅那些照看永久藏品的人們在進行策展,為了展覽計劃而工作的人們也開始進行策展工作。隨後,在教育部門工作的人們也開始策劃活動,包括電影放映等等。策展實踐因此得到發揚。











MD:我認為研究工作是非常工作的。最近幾年有了一些改變,但是在過去-在一些重要的美術館內仍然是這樣的-你需要有一個以研究為基礎的高等學位才能在一個像泰特的機構之中工作。我知道關於策展實踐的大學專業是在最近幾年才興盛起來的,而對於美術館工作來說最重要的技能就是研究技能,這總是我們工作的中心。這技能對於泰特之類的美術館來說無比重要。我們有兩個主要的工作:建立館內藝術作品收藏,以及進行展覽。這兩點是同樣重要的,如果你不能夠了解所有藝術家的重要性,你就無法決定到底要為哪位藝術家舉辦展覽。舉例來說,為甚麼我們要為瑪琳·杜馬斯(Marlene Dumas)舉辦展覽?甚麼樣的因素影響了這樣的決定?所以,你必須要了解世界範圍內藝術創作的狀況,你需要了解繪畫在當代藝術中的角色。為甚麼我們要在現在,當大部分藝術家都不再進行繪畫創作的時候,為一位繪畫藝術家舉辦大型個人展覽?如果我們想要聚焦於繪畫的話,為甚麼選擇她?所有這些因素都是與研究工作有關的,都是與關於全球藝術世界的理解有關的。為甚麼要在泰特美術館進行這樣的展覽?倫敦市內的其他大型機構包括還沃德畫廊(Hayward Gallery)以及皇家藝術學會(Royal Academy of Arts),他們舉辦不同類型的展覽,有着不同的判斷標準,然而他們也是大量地依賴研究工作的。與其他現在在進行創作的藝術家相比,甚麼讓瑪琳·杜馬斯脫穎而出?這總是與某些理論相關的,我現在希望談談共時性(synchronic)以及歷時性(diachronic)兩點。共時性的討論要關照在一個時間點內發生的所有事情。所以我們要去察看這位藝術家在當下這個時刻中的位置。而歷時性的討論則意味著在時間長河中的發展-過往的歷史中,有甚麼能夠告訴我們,瑪琳·杜馬是目前正確的選擇。不僅僅是正確的選擇,我們需要基於許多實際的因素進行決策-美術館的國際運作狀況、美術館在倫敦市內進行的工作狀況、以及我們完成這樣的一次大型展覽的契機等等。













MD:或許可以從一件軼事說起:2006年我在泰特工作的第一個月,我和美國的行動主義團體游擊隊女孩(Guerrilla Girls)一起合作。我們一起在泰特進行一個工作坊,她們教授其他年輕藝術家怎麼創作像她們一樣的作品。這個項目非常有趣,而我們也在畫廊展示了她們的作品,她們特別要求說:“我們要辦一個大師班(master class)。”當時我心想,這用詞也太奇怪了,“master”這個詞非常男性化,像她們那麼激進前衛的人怎麼會這麼強調呢?因為叫作大師班實在是很落伍的叫法。她們堅持道:“一定要叫大師班,所有的海報都必須這麼印。”這實在太詭異了。然後在工作坊開始的前一天,她們穿著一身黑衣,戴著大猩猩面具,手拿塗鴉筆來到畫廊,把整座大樓的海報上的“master”全部打叉,寫成“mistress”。這一切都是她們預先設計好的“局”,她們當時反抗的正是藝術品都成了男性藝術家的專利,這是十分有趣的一個案例。事實上,在過去幾年裡,我們不斷地想要證明我們並沒有“重男輕女”,但我們不會採用大張旗鼓的方式來強調。我們想要推廣女性藝術家,我們努力和優秀藝術家一起合作辦展,我們希望能取得更好的平衡。舉個例子,去年,我們的展覽有馬列維奇(Melevich),馬蒂斯(Matisse),波克(Polke),全部都是男性藝術家。今年都是女性藝術家,有杜馬斯(Dumas),艾尼斯·馬丁(Anges Martin),芭芭拉·海衛夫(Barbara Hepworth)。我們需要長時間地去調整達到平衡,但不需要所有的事情都那麼強調。


When I am in China, I am always struck by the different ways in which people respond to art. One very positive thing is the belief which comes across from many people that contemporary art is meaningful, and it can actually make a difference. I would consider that to be a really important motivation. It would be far too easy to say that being an artist means that you are a painter and you produce very large paintings or very large sculptures and you become rich. It would be such a simplistic understanding of what the art world is, also of the way in which art impacts on people and seeing that people believe in the power of art is inspiring.

For me from the very beginning, art has always worked as two-way communication, or communication with many people, it is not just about a simple relationship between the owner of work of art and the use that they make of it, art has a much wider impact than that. In Europe, where art was used from the middle ages in churches, or from the nineteenth century onwards in public galleries and public places, there is a sense that art is meant to be seen by the people, you can see it for free, without having to own it, and that is really important, I think that’s really significant.

A museum in particular is both a place of production of knowledge and the production of art, but also a place of dissemination and of making public the most contemporary knowledge, the newest kind of knowledge as well as more historical development. So we are always looking back at history and finding new paths through history.





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