Artist as Curator. {2012}

Through this text I shall examine the legacy of Artists working as Curators; from its beginning in 19th Century France, the creation of artist led organisations of the 20th century, institutional critique, the complexities of artists working as Curators and conclude on my own experience. In a short essay for Jens Hoffmans’ 1993 e-Flux project ‘The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By An Artist’, Ricardo Basbaum (2003) states:“When artists curate, they cannot avoid mixing their artistic investigations with the proposed Curatorial project: for me, this is the strength and singularity they bring to curating. Artists as Curators bring this instinctive network of proximities to their work. Artist-Curators see their exhibitions as projects, to showcase their own or selected work, and by doing so escalate their practice into a cooperative engagement, usually benefiting a cause or investigation. Traditionally Curators were present to organize, display, analyse and research solely for the galleries benefit, more recently Curators have begun to “emancipate themselves from the role of custodians of museum collections or the administrative organizers of exhibitions” (Hoffmann, 2006, p.324). To understand why both roles have changed we should analyse their shared histories.

In the 1830’s, French Artists were placing themselves in the curatorial role in fringe independent gallery exhibitions such as the ‘Salons des Refusés’, produced by artists who were refused by the Paris Salon academia. Throughout the 19th and early 20thcenturies, artists such as Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auste Renoir showcased their work by artist run organisations, such as Société des Artistes Français, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and Salon d’Automne. Across the Atlantic Artists like Marcel Duchamps wished to break away from the norm when his work ‘Nude Descending on a staircase No.2’ was featured in The First Armory Show in New York in 1913 (Pierce, 2011). These artist led Curatorial practices successfully challenged the art establishment, as artists began to take charge of how their work was displayed, moving away from the boundaries of the frame or wall and set the groundings for what was to follow.

Fig1: Marcel Duchamp, 1,200 Bags of Coal, International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie Beaux-Arts, 1938,

In 1938 Duchamp placed his ‘1,200 Bags of Coal’ work on the ceiling of Galerie Beaux-Arts, breaking previous restrictions. Experimental avant-garde artists such as Duchamp wished to push the limitations of the conservative salons and institutions, by presenting their work in innovative methods. Anton Vidokel (2011) in a recent article in E-Flux states;“most artists suspect that their “supervisors,” the Curators, do not really understand the art, that they are controlling, egocentric, and ignorant, and are mismanaging the (art) factory and mistreating the producers.” This misunderstanding and arrogance produced a flood of artist run organisations, cooperatives, collectives, and artist networks to emerge. In 1966 the successful ‘Project Art Centre’ was set up in Dublin, where artists took the curatorial role to select the work for short exhibitions in painting, performance and theatre.  During the 1980’s recession, much like todays artistic climate, artists took advantage of empty shops, offices and warehouses, to self promote and curate independent exhibitions and rejuvenate their neighbourhoods; providing artistic dialogue outside the gallery system. In 1989 the American artist Martha Rosler famously curated her influential work ‘If You Lived Here’ to both demonstrate curating can become an artistic practice and to retaliate against the lack of institutional support given to artists. The project involved over 50 artists and designers; working in film, photography, architecture, and activist groups addressing the notion of a utopian vision and homeless living conditions. These projects generated a critique of the institution and cultural authority which led to a decline and questioning of the art establishment and power of Curators. Institutional critique, which emerged from Minimalism, systematically questions and exposes the inner structures of art institutions.

Fig2: Christo and Jeanne-Claude.  Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1968-69. Photo: Harry Shunk © 1969 Christo

During 1969 two high profile works were produced by artists commenting on the power of the establishment; Jean & Claude Christo wrapped the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in tarpaulin. Whilst Mel Bochner’s ‘Measurement: Room’ evaluated the parameters of Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich, by mapping out the dimensions of the space, he wished to critique the institutes core properties. Michael Asher in 1974 also addressed the physicality of the gallery space in his work ‘Project for Claire Copley Gallery’, by removing the wall dividing the Copley gallery and its office. Asher repeated this idea most recently in the 2008 exhibited ‘Installation View’ at the Santa Monica Museum of Art where he placed the innards of the portable walls in every configuration the museum has constructed a show. As these artists investigate the mechanisms of the institution they begin to deconstruct the established norms, allowing for the utilization of knowledge towards their own practice and placement of artist as Curator. Brian O’Doherty (1999, p.14) address’ the formalities of the contemporary white cube gallery stating; “The ideal gallery subtracts from the artwork all cues that interfere with the fact that it is “art”. The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its evaluation of itself.” O’Doherty’s analysis speaks of the resistance modern galleries have with the removal of any formal integrity a piece may have within the white cube. Artists working as Curators have often tried to move away from this norm and place works in a new context. A recent example would be Dublin Contemporary 2011, curated by the Artist-Curator Jota Castro, and Curator Christina Viveros-Fauné’s, who placed the quinquennial in the disused Earlsfort Terrace, a clear contrast to the established white rooms of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmanham.

Unique spaces and temporary galleries have played a major role in contemporary art, such as the artist cooperative ‘City Racing’ who used an abandoned betting shop as an artist run space in south London, between 1988-1998. The space became a key networking and exhibition venue in London for emerging artists of the time. Santiago Sierra further questioned the role of the Curator and power of the institution with two of his recent works; in 2002 at Lisson Gallery London “Space closed off by corrugated metal” and the 2003 piece “Wall enclosing a space” at the Spanish Pavilion in the Venice biennial. By constructing walls to disempower the viewer from seeing ‘work’ Sierra wished to comment on gallery conditions and the role of the audience, he describes; “the piece was not the empty space but rather the situation” (Margolles, 2004).

Fig3: 6th International Caribbean Biennial. Photo by Elizabeth Peyton, 1999.

In 1999, the Italian Artist Maurizio Cattelan and Curator Jens Hoffmann along with a group of artists produced one of the most recent controversial critiques of curation and biennial mode; The 6th International Caribbean Biennial. The Cruators selected ten Artists that had participated most frequently in Biennials of the 1990s and created a project that was “essentially a critique aimed at the Biennial boom” (Hoffmann, 2006, p.333). The Biennial was promoted in international press and initially perceived as ‘real’; however there was no work shown in the exhibition and it was in fact a hoax. Jans Hoffman described the project as self-indulgent and was “conceived as a parody of Institutional critique that took some of its operating principles to extremes” (Hoffmann, 2006, p.333). In the absence of any actual physical work, the artists and the notion of the work “became the objects of contemplation” and “what we got was a furtive and ungenerous gesture, a covert V-sign flipped at the art world behind its back  (Liu, 2000). No matter which way you look at this specific ‘Biennial’ it is sure to the point that both Maurizio Cattelan pushed the boundaries of working as an Artist-Curator and enabled her fellow Artists to become contributors of the show. Until recently Artists who wished receive recognition and a ‘placement’ in the art world were required to please both critics and Curators. However while attending Arts Administration programs a new breed of Artist-Curators have emerged by acquiring the practical and organization skills necessary to mount exhibitions. Matthew Higgs describes the possibilities of operating as an Artist and Curator in an interview by Paul O’Neill, Higgs (2006) states that an Artist-Curator “can operate outside of convention or orthodoxy”, a form of freedom an institutional Curator may not find, and describes his work as assessing each opportunity as a way of “trying to find appropriate – and hopefully interesting -responses to whatever circumstances one finds oneself in” (Higgs, 2006, p.2). Perhaps this freedom and creation of new circumstance is what appeals to artists who slide between creating their own work and curating the work of others. Nevertheless by contrasting the two professions there is an evident undercurrent of hostility between Artists and Curators as curatorial skills may cause friction; the two will always create different shows deriving from conditions set from their different disciplines. Perhaps these conditions are set by the Artist/Curator becoming the ‘cultural producer’, a notion started by Walter Benjamin, Artists no longer simply create a show in an unused space, they must acknowledge the complexity of the collaboration and court audience, collectors, patrons, boards of trustees, government bureaucrats and gallerists to attend their show, while also dealing with the physical, marketing and financial logistics of producing the exhibition.

To fully interrogate the legacy of the ‘Artist as Curator’ it is significant to delve into two examples of online artist Curatorial projects and speak of my own tangible experience as an artist who works as a Curator. In 1993 the Austrian artist Eva Grubinger developed ‘C@C’ Computer Aided Curating, a “prototype system concerned with the production, presentation, documentation and distribution of contemporary art” (Grubinger, 2006, p.103). Grubinger designed the website, during a time when the Internet was in its infancy, to allow a social network of artists to display and create work online, which ignited a large online trend of artists utilizing the technology for self promotion. Grubinger requested participating artists to assign three further artists to join, causing a snowballing of online curating.  In 2002 a decade later Greek artist Miltos Manetas and American Peter Lunenfeld took online curation to an activist mode, utilizing their creation of ‘’ as a counter exhibition website, built to divert traffic away from the genuine Whitney Biennial of 2002. In retaliation for not making selection for the show Manetas started the rumour that he was planning to use 23 U-Haul trucks equipped with projectors to protest outside the Whitney Museums Biennial’s opening night. The U-Haul trucks did not happen but instead a form of ‘performance’ where members of the biennial claimed to have seen the U-Haul trucks, creating as Manetas states an artistic “urban legend” (MANETAS, 2012). This performance was a by-product and result of Manetas and Lunenfelds’ curatorial satirical website. However Beryl Graham (2004, p.254) appropriately questions “was the entire project a conceptual breaking of boundaries between the virtual and real”, as the outside intervention “addressed a debate in the field of production as a whole” with links  “to debates about the role of artists as Curators, as legitimates of artistic practice.”

Fig 4: MART Group Logo.

To move into a self-reflexive analysis of my own practice as an artist-Curator would be conducive to conclude this text. Having trained as a visual artist and showcased my work internationally, I set up MART ( in 2006, with Ciara Scanlan (who has showcased her work most recently in Dublin Contemporary), as a new initiative to provide a platform for experimental film, new media, installation and performance artists to showcase their work online and in pop up exhibitions. Since its inauguration I have co-curated over 200 artists in national and international exhibitions, reaching an audience of over 50,000 throughout the years. From the lack of support from contemporary galleries we set up the initiative to bring emerging artists to the forefront of visual culture in Ireland, actively engaging people from all sectors of society in both its viewing and production. This work has provided positive self-growth, allowing reflection and an insight into the modes of my peers. The benefit of my work is evident with numerous of the Irish participants of Dublin Contemporary were previously curated by MART. Furthermore my own practice has transformed due to my Curatorial work; with my new project ‘The Core Project’ ( I am curating one artist from every sovereign state in the world to record themselves answering a question I propose to them. The project will end with a symphony of voices from around the globe broadcast to millions, through an online website and experimental film. My work crosses between working as an ‘Artist’, ‘Curator’ and ‘Cultural Producer’ whichever ‘marker’ one would like to use for me and others like myself it makes no difference, the work produced is Art and the rest is just a conundrum of academic labels.

Published by Matthew Nevin – February 2012.

Matthew Nevin is a full time student of ACW at NCAD. He is an active artist, and curator of the Irish Visual Arts Organization MART.



BASBAUM, R. 2003. The Next Doc. / Ricardo Basbaum. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

GRAHAM, B. COOK, S. 2010. Rethinking curating: art after new media. 1st ed. London: MIT Press, 2010.

GRUBINGER,E. 2006. C@C – Computer Aided Curating. 1993-19995 Revisited. In: Krysa, J, 2006. Curating immateriality: the work of the Curator in the age of network systems. 1st ed. New York: Autonomedia. P.103-113.

HIGGS, M, 2006. Matthew Higgs and Paul O’Neill. North Drive Press, [Online]. #3, (p.2). Available at: [Accessed 07 February 2012].

HOFFMANN, J. 2006. ‘The Curatorialization of Institutional Critique’, In: Welchman, John C. 2006. 2nd.ed, Institutional Critique and After, Volume 2 of the SoCCAS Symposia, Zurich, JRP Ringier. P.323-335

LIU, J . 2000. Trouble in Paradise. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

MANETAS. 2012. WHITNEYBIENNIAL.COM – the story.[ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

MARGOLLES, T. 2004. Bomb Magazine: Santiago Sierra by Teresa Margolles. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

O’DOHERTY, B, 1999. Inside the white cube: the ideology of the gallery space. Berkeley: University of California Press.

PIERCE, S. 2011. With Practicality comes a Practice: the Artist as Curator. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

VIDOKLE, A. 2011. Art Without Artists?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

List of Figures / Images:

Figure 1: Marcel Duchamp, 1938. 1,200 Bags of Coal, International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie Beaux-Arts. Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

Figure 2: Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1968-69 Photo: Harry Shunk © 1969 Christo. Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

Figure 3: 6th International Caribbean Biennial, Photo by Elizabeth Peyton, 1999. Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].

Figure 4:MART Group Logo. 2012. Available at: [Accessed 07 February 12].