A Curator's Bookshelf: 10 Essential Reads

Our in-house curator Daria Kravchuk put together a list of books to help you delve into and navigate it with greater ease. 

Our culture is permeated with curatorial ways of thinking. Thanks to digital, value is performed like never before. Audiences are demanding and extremely conscious of what they want; contemporary curating is an absurdity. Outfits are curated. Breakfasts are curated. Instagram profiles are curated. Virtually everyone is a curator.

Navigating the art world is frustrating and confusing, even when you have a degree in the field. Universities can’t keep up with the fast-changing world of art, nor can they provide hands-on knowledge about it. Our in-house curator Daria Kravchuk put together a list of books to help you delve into and navigate it with greater ease.

1. Thinking Contemporary Curating by Terry Smith.

What is contemporary curatorial thought? Today’s discourse is heating up with a new cocktail of bold ideas and ethical imperatives. These include cooperative curating, the reimagination of museums and the historicization of exhibition-making. Less obvious are issues such as rethinking spectatorship, engaging viewers as co-curators and the challenges with curating contemporaneity. In five essays, art theorist and historian Terry Smith surveys the international landscape of curators’ current thinking. He also explores exhibitions that show contemporaneity in recent, present and past art, questions the rise of curators utilizing artistic strategies, and assesses a number of key tendencies in curating as responses to contemporary conditions. Thinking Contemporary Curating is the first book to comprehensively chart the practices of curating and to systematically think through what it is that is so distinctive about contemporary curatorial thought.

Thinking Contemporary Curating by Terry Smith.

2. Curating Subjects by Paul O’Neill.

This sleek and serious anthology of curatorial writing documents the inter-dependent relationships between the curatorial past, present and speculative futures. Instead of following the convention that is curators writing about themselves, it invites authors to write a text about the creational work of their peers. The result is an eclectic volume of accessible responses that provides a dynamic curatorial discourse where critical essays, theoretical explorations, propositions, historical overviews, interviews, exhibition critiques, and fictional accounts sit side by side. Essential reading for students and professionals alike.

Curating Subjects by Paul O’Neill.

3. Art Power by Boris Groys.

Art Power by Boris Groys  recognises both the problem and the potential that lies behind art’s relationship with power. The distinguished theoretician argues that art is hardly a powerless commodity subject to the market’s fiats of inclusion and exclusion. In Art Power, Groys examines contemporary art according to its ideological functions. Art, Groys writes, is produced and brought before the public in two ways – as a commodity and as a tool of political propaganda. In the contemporary art scene, very little attention is paid to the latter. Groys believes that Western mainstream art increasingly behaves in line with the norms of ideological propaganda, as it is produced and exhibited for the masses at international exhibitions, biennials, and festivals. Contemporary art, Groys argues, demonstrates its power by appropriating the iconoclastic gestures directed against it by positioning itself simultaneously as an image and as a critique of the image.

 

Art Power by Boris Groys.

4. How to write about Contemporary Art by Gilda Williams.

How to Write About Contemporary Art is the definitive guide to writing engagingly about the art of our time. Invaluable for students, arts professionals as well as aspiring writers, the book navigates readers through key elements of style and content; from the aims and structure of a piece to its tone and language. Brimming with practical tips, the second part of the book is organized around specific forms, including academic essays, press releases, news articles, gallery guides, exhibition reviews, and blogs. In counselling the reader against common pitfalls – such as jargon and poor structure – Gilda Williams points to the power of research, showing the reader how to deploy language effectively, develop new ideas, and construct compelling texts. 

How to write about Contemporary Art by Gilda Williams.

5. A Brief History of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Hans Ulrirch Obrist’s book is a unique collection of interviews with eleven pioneer curators.  Anne D’Harnoncourt, Werner Hoffman, Jean Leering, Franz Meyer, Seth Siegelaub, Walter Zanini, Johannes Cladders, Lucy Lippard, Walter Hopps, Pontus Hulten and Harald Szeemann are gathered in this volume, giving deep and personal insights into their lives and achievements as curators. The interviewees not only promoted the careers of various artists by exhibiting their works but they also helped explain the cultural and social significance of contemporary art to a wide public audience.

A Brief History of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

6. Crafting exhibitions by Maria Lind, Marianne Zamecznik, Glenn Adamson, Anne Britt Ylvisåker.

Exhibition making and curatorial practices went through a seminal change over the last twenty years. This is something that has challenged the notion of what constitutes an exhibition in terms of communication and design. Large scale group exhibitions, like documenta in Kassel, involved discussions around exhibition-making and curatorial models at the heart of their organisational body. Another key aspect of these large-scale is that they use new venues for showcasing art, whether it is museums that don’t normally exhibit contemporary art or craft, abandoned factories, and public spaces.

Crafting exhibitions by Maria Lind, Marianne Zamecznik, Glenn Adamson, Anne Britt Ylvisåker.

7. Contemporary Painting in Context, edited by Anne Ring Petersen with Mikkel Bogh, Hans Dam Christensen, Peter Nørgaard Larsen.

The essays collected in Contemporary Painting in Context examine the transformation of the field of painting over the last decades in relation to the general lines of development in contemporary culture and visuality. The contributors address a range of issues, i.e how paintings present themselves to us today. The works address how paintings are framed experientially, institutionally and culturally; the ways in which contemporary paintings reflect on historical transformations of culture, visuality and image production and consumption; and whether it is possible to explain some of the changes and extensions of painting, by placing it in the wider context of cultural history, visual culture studies or gender studies. Contributors: Jonathan Harris, Peter Weibel, Barry Schwabsky, Stephen Melville, Katharina Grosse, Anne Ring Petersen, Katy Deepwell, Rune Gade, Gitte Ørskou and Chin-Tao Wu.

Contemporary Painting in Context, edited by Anne Ring Petersen with Mikkel Bogh, Hans Dam Christensen, Peter Nørgaard Larsen.

8. Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Drawing on his own experiences and inspirations – from staging his first exhibition in his kitchen in 1986 to encounters with artists, exhibition makers, and thinkers – Hans Ulrich Obrist looks to inspire all those engaged in the creation of culture. Moving from meetings with artists to the creation of the first public museums in the 18th century, recounting the practice of inspirational figures such as Diaghilev, skipping between exhibitions, continents and centuries, Ways of Curating argues that curation is far from a static practice. Driven by curiosity, at its best, Ways of Curating allows the reader to create the future.

Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist

9. The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art after the Readymade by John Roberts.

Looking at art today, it’s easy to decry it for a lack of craft and skill in its production; be it painting, photography or sculpture. In Intangibilities of Form, John Roberts sheds an entirely new light on the obsolescence of traditional craft skills in contemporary art, exploring technological and social developments that gave rise to postmodern theories that suggest that art may not require an author – certainly not one with any technical ability. Envisioning Marcel Duchamp as a theorist of artistic labour, Roberts describes how he opened up new circuits of authorship for the artist. He then looks at how the approaches proliferated in art post-1960s and the early days of Conceptual art. The Intangibilities of Form offers a truly original approach to the fate of the aesthetic and the avant-garde in contemporary society through the labour theory of culture.

The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art after the Readymade by John Roberts.

10. Art and Value: Art’s Economic Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical and Marxist Economics: Historical Materialism by Dave Beech.

Art and Value is the first comprehensive analysis of art’s political economy in the context of classical, neoclassical and Marxist economics. It provides a critical-historical survey of the theories of art’s economic exceptionalism, of art as a merit of good and the theories surrounding the commodification of art. Key debates on the economics of art are examined thoroughly. Subjecting mainstream and Marxist theories of art’s economics to an exacting critique, Art and Value concludes with a new Marxist theory regarding art’s economic exceptionalism.

Art and Value: Art’s Economic Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical and Marxist Economics: Historical Materialism by Dave Beech.

 

Daria Kravchuk
Daria Kravchuk
is a curator and art manager with an MA in Museology from Amsterdam University. Her international projects are focused on the intersection of contemporary art, architecture, urban planning and anthropology. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.