On exhibiting art

«Curating» an art exhibition is like staging a theater play. First, you have to recognize the core of the «piece» in order to know what you are talking about. Next, you have to strive for the best possible presentation of your assembled material, for the «mise en scène»… 

Everything interacts

With a theater play, this implies determining the aesthetic context, length and sequence (acts 1 – 3), number of actors, lighting, etc.: everything needs to be fine-tuned to each other. Then, a good dramaturgy requires a breathtaking opening and an unforgettable ending! Not to forget the basic prerequisite, either: much like in cooking, the «materia prima», the ingredients, the «pieces»- in our case, the works of art—have to be of prime quality.

Prior to each purchase for the Daros Latinamerica Collection, I carefully considered how the specific work would perform in the context of an exhibition and what impression it would make on an impartial viewer. It was also my intention that the art works in themselves completely reflect the underlying concept of the collection. Their display, in turn, was not simply intended as an aesthetic event, but rather possessed an intrinsic, educational quality that became apparent in their mutual interaction and in the sequence of their presentation. The individual exhibitions, each in their own terms, thus became effortlessly accessible to the open-minded and interested visitor.

An arid academic presentation of artworks, lined up to serve as evidence of a more or less interesting «curatorial» idea, was precisely not what I was aiming at. Rather, I sought to arrange a discursive, productive, and unexpected encounter of diverse works of art, to create selective references that would allow weaving a potential network to kick off a profusion of exciting interpretations in the receptive viewer. Again, the precondition for this is the use of high-quality material: works that are expressive and that have something to tell us! Like a good politician, a curator, too, has to be able to cut to the heart of the matter and to resist fizzling out in endless loops of the ever-same—as is unfortunately often the case in our meanwhile highly unreflective common exhibition practice.

Choice matters

A further vital aspect is the choice of the works. No matter the issue an exhibition is intended to elaborate, the selection is always part of it: What do I want to show and what do I need in order to show it? To point out a negative case example in this respect, which nevertheless represents a common Latin American exhibition practice: When the 2010/2011 exhibition «Vibración», Modern Art from Latin America, The Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, was opened at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, a graphic work by Torres García from 1930 had been selected for the entry area. But this frightfully mediocre work, which was supposed to illustrate the «School of the South» (Escuela del sur), simply did not stand up to artistic scrutiny. That’s why I had the impulse to turn on my heels and just leave straight away. But the Latin American curator obviously couldn’t care less about quality—to him, the artwork merely served as «evidence» and example for his hypothesis (no «School of the South» without Torres García).

Details show

Let’s face it: this is not the 19th century. Presenting artworks with a threatening finger wag, forcing them upon the audience, or smothering the works in academic discourse are no-gos. Instead, the works should be given free rein to interact cheerfully and meaningfully, offering the interested viewers a plethora of options to find their own interpretations. An artwork’s impact is based to a large extent on its surrounding and staging; different presentation contexts can lead to dramatically different effects. Many colleagues from Iberian or Latin American cultural backgrounds still sadly neglect to present the artworks to their best advantage. The worst I ever witnessed in this regard was at a biennial anniversary exhibition a few years ago at Parque Ibirapuera in São Paulo. The light fittings had been left, unchanged, from the previous exhibition, even though the partitions for hanging the artworks had been entirely rearranged…

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