I’ve yet to visit this show myself, so the following may seem quite harsh given I have no personal experience of the projects, but these are just my initial thoughts, reflecting a review and information from the show’s website.
Apropos my continuing investigations into (the state of) institutional critique, I came cross a review of the RCA MA in Curating Contemporary Art, entitled Various Small Fires. The review was posted on Art Reviews’ mySpace blog, by James Westcott (aside: I have a real problem with the fact that mySpace layouts look awful in the Safari browser, to the extent that I think it reflects really badly on any site using this service. But getting back to my original subject . . .).
Towards the end of his review, James Westcott critically contrasts this set of fledgling curators’ efforts with those of previous graduates of the course. And not only their peers but also other artists who have worked in the same space or with the same ‘material’.
Initially, though, he makes the connection with Yves Klein’s Le Vide, the empty gallery as void as object to be displayed, undoubtedly a seminal piece for the practice of institutional critique, and one which the present set of curators are perhaps being unfairly compared to. I don’t think there’s much to gain using Klein as a point of comparison for any recent curators, especially given the actual content of the current RCA degree show. While you can’t get away from the knowledge of Klein’s act, there’s been so much water under the bridge since then that I don’t think it’s possible to extricate these current examples from every other influence that has appeared since Klein.
The introduction to the show from the RCA website aligns itself with a practice very much concerned with the physical spaces involved:
The exhibition hinges on the use of the galleries’ architecture and what emerges through the bare coexistence of the different artworks. Another concern of ours has been to expose the galleries’ interior architecture . . . 1
And as Westcott highlights, this is an ambivalent solution:
Reacting to the given space is an elegant solution to the potential organizational and aesthetic problems of a group of curators (all of them with something to say and something to prove) putting together a group show. But it is just that: a solution, a kind of expedience, rather than a demonstration of inspiration, or an assertion of something.2
I also wonder how this is in any way radical? The obvious rejoinder to that question would be, why should it be radical at all, and what would ‘radical’ look like in this context?
The “bare coexistence” mentioned in the introduction to the website just seems to be a license absolving the curators of any requirement to assert their own presence with the works they’ve picked – although that’s perhaps not what one would want anyway, it’s a common complaint to say that the curator has hijacked a particular show of another artist’s works.
Well, perhaps this license allows them the freedom to depart from any over-bearing structure of narrative and theme, but where does that leave us? I’m left wondering what this adds to discourses which took place in the 90’s, which dealt with apparently similar concerns?
Must find out more . . .
- RCA (2007). Various Small Fires. In Royal College of Art: Curating Contemporary Art [Internet]. Available from <http://www.cca.rca.ac.uk/beta/varioussmallfires/> [Accessed 19 March 2007]
- WESTCOTT, James (2007). Various Small Fires at the RCA (with video footage). In ArtReview: blog. Available from <http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=101870701&blogID=241774729&MyToken=78e8339e-adde-465c-bbdd-44592d8381fd> [Accessed 19 March 2007]