Category Archives: ARTICLE REVIEWS

Article Review: ‘Artists and Curators as 
Authors – Competitors, Collaborators, or Team-workers?’

Richter, Dorothee (2013) Artists and Curators as 
Authors – Competitors,  Collaborators, or Team-workers? [online]. Zürich: Available at: on 13/10/13)

In this article Richter discusses the hierachy between curator and artist and gives examples of swiss curator Harald Szeemann, the Fluxus artist group and the Curating Degree Zero Archive.

The first example discusses a photograph of Szeemann, taken from the Documenta 5 (1972) exhibition.  This exhibition was a first in terms of curator authorship, with Szeeman independently organising Documenta 5, selecting the artists and choosing the theme.

In the photograph, Szeeman takes centre stage with the artists surrounding him.  Richter compares this image with religious and ancient greek paintings where there is a central figure e.g. Christ, with his apostles either side of him.  The arrangement of the figures highlights the power of the central figure and sense of submission of the persons around them.  The viewers of these images, Richter suggests, are in a lower ranking position again because they are merely spectators and not part of the group in the image.

Similarly, this hierachy is evident in the Documenta 5 photograph with Szeeman – the curator taking on the Christ-like role, the artists play his dutiful subjects and the viewer becomes the outsider – looking in.  In this instance the power of the curator has been elevated above the artists.

Baltasar Burkhard, Harald Szeemann, portrayed on 8th October 1972, the last day of Documenta 5, black-and-white photograph
Baltasar Burkhard, Harald Szeemann, portrayed on 8th October 1972, the last day of Documenta 5, black-and-white photograph

However, Richter notes some criticism from two artists of the exhibition Robert Smithson and Daniel Buren.  Smithson states that ‘the curator limits the exhibition’ and suggests the gallery becomes a ‘prison’ for artwork –  ‘cut off from the outside world’.  Buren states that ‘the exhibition is tending increasingly towards the exhibition of the exhibition as a work of art and no longer as an exhibition of works of art’.

Documenta 5 is in stark contrast to Documenta 1, 1955 where the post-war exhibition presented artists as the ‘new heroes’ – displaying portraits of the artists on the entrance hall walls.  However, the artist’s image gradually depleted over the following Documenta exhibitions – moving from wall to catalogue to non-existent.

Ten years prior to Documenta 5, artist groups were forming – including Fluxus.  Fluxus, was an avant-garde artist group of the 1960s which challenged ideas of traditional and commercial art and looked to involve the audience.  They were known for organising their own exhibitions and publications, however although they appeared to have a ‘spontaneuos’ nature, founding member George Maciunas organised many of the events behind the scenes and even coined the term ‘Fluxus’.  With this in mind Maciunas could be comparable to a curator – much like Szeemann – he arranged exhibitions, and by using the word ‘Fluxus’ – he presented a number of artists under one umbrella name, much as a curator would with the title of an exhibition.  Again, a hierachy is evident – although perhaps not as clear as the Szeemann example, however, both try to allude to the idea of the freedom of the artist.

Richter goes on to discuss Curating Degree Zero Archive which was first initiated by herself and Barnaby Drabble in 2003.  The Archive and ‘touring exhibition’, sets out to break down the hierachy between curator, artist and audience and endeavours to create an ‘open narrative structure’.  This is achieved by allowing the contents of the archive (‘provided by the participating curators’) to change and evolve according to the conversations had with various art institutions they attend across the world.  This includes discussions with artists, curators, designers, local audiences and theorists.  Although, differences of opinion may occur – ‘contradictions [are] preserved’ as they allow for further questioning and the ‘possibility [of gaining more] knowledge and insight’.

In the instance of CDZA the power-struggle between curator and artist has significantly diminished, by allowing the authorship to not simply be the responsibility of one sole individual but letting each have their say, on a level playing field.