On Curation: A Hermeneutical Approach


Starting point of this paper is the philosophical field of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics was established to account for different conditions of understanding and how they shape our interpretative processes. As different times constitute different conditions, the goal of the discipline essentially is to bridge the temporal gap between the creation of a work and its perception at a given point in time. Whereas traditionally, understanding was a matter of analyzing the historical tradition of author/artist and reader/viewer, nowadays, the perception and interpretation of art is shaped by another instance, the curator. Under the premise that selection and arrangement, i.e. curating, cannot be neutral, the author analyzes different contexts in which curating takes place and how different contexts account for different effects on our perception of art. After outlining the development of the curatorial practice—from institutional to independent curation—, a case study of Swiss curator Harald Szeemann serves as opportunity to examine specific phenomena and exhibitions in a detailed manner. A cultural and methodological cesura is proposed after which curators were able to execute the power and influence they have today: independent curation and the ahistorical exhibition. Ahistorical exhibitions disregard chronological display and enable curators to create individual narratives and themes by gathering artworks in a cross-temporal and geographical manner. Throughout the paper, it is assessed if and to what degree the application of hermeneutics onto the field of independent curation is fruitful. This theoretical analysis is followed by a market overview, in which various functions the curator fulfills in different institutions, e.g. museums, galleries, auction houses, are outlined and compared. Optimally, the consideration of cultural and commercial factors enables viewers to approach and see (curated) art in a differentiated way

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