by Alison Green. Reaktion Books, June 2018. 246 p. ill. ISBN 9781780239330 (pbk), $29.00.
Reviewed September 2018
Art historian Alison Green builds upon the work of Paul O’Neill (The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), 2012), Terry Smith (Thinking Contemporary Curating, 2012), and Elena Filipovic (editor, The Artist as Curator: An Anthology, 2017) in When Artists Curate. Considering the growing interest in curatorial theory in recent years, When Artists Curate is a timely publication that neatly summarizes and expands upon a rapidly developing body of literature. Green foregrounds the subject of artist-curators by discussing the publication of The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by an Artist (2004), an anthology of critical essays by major figures in the contemporary art world, such as Daniel Buren, Martha Rosler, AA Bronson, Marina Abramović, and John Baldessari, among many others. This publication criticizes the ubiquitous role of the curator in Documenta, the international contemporary art exhibition that takes place in Kassel, Germany, every five years. Green unpacks these arguments to trace the history of the phenomenon of the artist-curator, reminding readers that curators were originally artists themselves.
The author examines precursors to contemporary artist-curators, such as Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Claes Oldenburg, in the first section, titled “A Brief History of Artists Curating Before the 1980s.” Green argues that many artists throughout the twentieth century had already explored curatorial practice in their work. The remainder of the book considers the various ways in which contemporary artists have since adopted and transformed curatorial practice, with sections covering over-arching themes of experimentation, museums/”not-museums,” authorship, habitus, open works, and “displays of criticality.” Through these themes, the book examines artists who have reclaimed the dissemination and exhibition of their own work from museum, gallery, and art festival curators. Toward the latter half of the book, Green explores contemporary art after institutional critique, concluding with a section titled “Exhibition as Medium.” Green presents the act of curating as a mode of artistic creation, blurring the distinctions between curator and artist by suggesting contemporary curating is a sort of “post-medium medium.”
When Artists Curate includes references, a select bibliography, and an index. The accompanying images (mostly black and white, some in color) are significant, documenting ephemeral exhibition spaces and works of art. Green strategically positions a wide variety of contemporary art within challenging theoretical frames, but her work is well researched and offers an ambitious perspective on the intersections of art making and exhibiting. This book would be useful for academic libraries supporting communities with particular interest in contemporary art, curatorial theory, museum studies, relational aesthetics, and institutional critique.