The Revolution will be Over - curated.

The role of curator in the 21st century is at the centre of considerable and extensive debate, not only within the museum profession but also in the creative industries sector. The number and range of exhibitions have increased dramatically over the last decade, and the growth of courses in curatorial studies has demonstrated a growing awareness of the work of the curator. New thinking about curating in recent years has inspired a range of pioneering approaches.

In investigating the role of the curator, Paul O’Neill’s narrative approaches the role of the curator within the traditional, hermetic curatorial discourse. He reproduces (2005, p.38) its academic and wordy rhetoric, while rarely addressing how its relevance may be shifting in contemporary times. In the past, traditional curators guided the viewing process in a sensory way through the decoration of the gallery rooms or cabinet of curiosities, whereas today this is carried out intellectually by providing a problem-orientated context. On the one hand, of course, the conditions of experience are more consciously acknowledged in environments created by designers. Yet the framework of the space itself is pushed further into the background. As every exhibition has different demands, so the guideline for designers and curators continues to be the creation of unarticulated, flexible and adaptable spaces.

The social dynamics of what is made visible or invisible are crucial issues for visual anthropology studies of poetics, politics and practices of display where explore the construction of meaning in exhibition space: Institutional relations that constrain selection and naturalize certain modes and narratives of display; and social agency of people and objects cross-cutting and generating new dynamics of display. (Bouquet, 2012) Curatorial strategies and design techniques continue to impose academic classifications “glass boxes” of interpretation –upon diverse cultures. The sizes and shapes of these boxes have changed with theoretical fashions within anthropology- ranging from progressive technology exhibits, comparative cultural displays of family groups and dioramas or stage sets to demonstrations and performance. (Ames, 1992)

The space can be a set, a convenient method of displaying, a boundary between inside and outside, public and private, an extended frame, or a cabinet of curiosities. It is perhaps the simplicity of its form and function that makes it so accessible, capable of holding different interpretations, that has attracted to appropriate it. Spaces are characterised by a specific sociality. When exhibiting in an alternative space, such as a radical social centre, a different set of interpretations can be arrived at. This also brings to light particular elements of the work that might be obscured by traditional notions of aesthetic value. Iwona Blazwick says that the exhibition space can be considered by psychodynamics of politics, economics, geography and subjectivity. To be relevant in twenty-first century, the gallery must be at once a permeable web, a black-box, a white cube, a temple, a laboratory, a situation. It must take the form of creative partnership, between a curator and the producer, object or idea.” (Marincola, 2006) To say as much means that the exhibition is no longer contained in space, but is constitutive of, and constituted by space. A reflexive mirror that purposes what Foucault calls a heterotopic space. (2010, p.92)

If our own era is that of space, of juxtaposition, the near and the far, the side by side and the scattered, as Foucault writes (1973, p.68); if the most pressing political issue of our day is the environment; if the exhibition has entered as the primary and artistic spatial construct of our day; and if the curator’s medium is now space and things, then perhaps the most pressing curatorial question of the day is not what can be exhibited but what can be done. Facing the future, curators have to tread a fine line: do they propose new spaces and models to express an idea of what contemporary design might be, how it could be shown, now and in the future — leading it on, showing it the way — or do they respond to its identified needs? What does contemporary design curating really want?

Further Reading:

Ames, M. (1992) Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums. Vancouver: University of British Colombia Press

Bayer, H., (1961), ‘Aspects of Design of Exhibitions and Museums.’ Curator: The Museum Journal, 4: pp.257–288 . doi :10.1111/j.2151–6952.1961.tb01561 [Accessed: 21 July 2014]

Bellini, A. (2006) Curatorial Schools: Between Hope and Illusion. Flash Art, (250), Available at: [Accessed: 15 August 2014].

Birkett, W. B., (2012). To Infinity and Beyond: A Critique of the Aesthetic White Cube. Thesis. Seton Hall University

Bitgood, S. (1990). Toward an Objective Description of the Visitor Immersion Experience. Visitor Behaviour, 5(2), p.28. Available at: [Accessed: 18 Aug 2014].

Blurton, J. (2001) Scenery: Draughting and Construction for Theatres, Museums, Exhibitions and Trade Shows. London: A & C Black

Bouquet, M. (ed.) (2001) Academic Anthropology and the Museum: Back to the Future. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books

Foucault, M. (1966) The Order of Things, 2002 edition, London: Routledge

Foucault, M. (1973) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Translated by A.M. Sheridan. New York: Routledge

Foucault, M. (2010). The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse On Language. New York: Vintage Books

Graham, B. (2010) Rethinking Curating, London: MIT Press

Greenberg, R; Ferguson, B. W.; Nairne, S: (1996) Thinking about Exhibitions, London: Routledge

Hooper-Green, E. (1992) Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge, London and New York: Routledge

Levi-Strauss, D. (2010) The bias of the World: Curating after Szeeman and Hopps in From head to hand, art and the manual. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Levin, G. (2006) ‘Artist’s Statement: Dialtones (A Telesymphony)’, Flong. Available at: [Accessed 19 July 2014]

Marincola, P. (ed.) (2001) Curating Now: Imaginative Practice, Public Responsibility. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative

Marincola, P. (2006). What makes a great exhibition? Philadelphia: Reaktion Books

Nemerov, A. (2012) Within, Without: New Media and the White Cube. Visual Studies Senior Honors Thesis, University of Pennsylvania Available at: [Accessed: July 5, 2014]

Obrist, H.U. (2008) A brief History of Curating. Zurich: JPR Ringier & Les Presses du Réel

Oddey, A. & White, C.A. (2006) The Potentials of Spaces: International Scenography and Performance for the 21st Century. Bristol, Portland: Intellect Books

O’Doherty B. (1999). Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. Los Angeles: University of California Press

O’Neil, P. (Ed.) (2007), Curating Subjects. London: Open Editions

O’Neil, P. (2013) The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s) London: MIT Press

Rigney, A. (2005). Plentitude, scarcity and the circulation of cultural memory. Journal of European Studies 35(1), 11–28. Available at: [Accessed: 28 July 2014]

Rosenbaum, S. (2011) Curation Nation: Why the Future of Content is Context. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional

Shubert, K. (2009) The curator’s egg: The evolution of the museum concept from the French Revolution to the present day. London: Ridinghouse



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