March 23, 2020

Curating’s Future Starts Now

School of Visual Arts (SVA)

Courtesy of MA Curatorial Practice, School of Visual Arts.

A virus is a supreme renderer of endless connectivity. And with it, our frailty is becoming more equally distributed every day. For a time to come, we are living a different life defined by this different sense of space. But alongside viralogical space is the technological space we already know, only accelerated now. For those of us who are artists and curators, the slipstream of light and shapes we organize and direct in physical space at this moment has a more consistent urgency to shift into the realm of the dematerialized.

As with everyone else, our vocabulary as curators today is touched even more meaningfully by such words as vulnerability, empathy, support, care, hospitality, collectivity, as well as extension, distance and closeness, and what it means to share. We now reach across to each other virtually in a more fully imagined otherness of space in which those words also carry the possibilities of distribution. As curators, we are usually constrained by the burdens of the physical: gallery rooms whose size and scale are fixed; restrictions on numbers of works and the costs and means of how to transport them across the city or the world; equipment, lighting, numbers of visitors. Of course, the access to audiences is now unbound; the limitations of galleries now opened to imagination.

What does it mean to be hospitable in a world upended by the ruthless ruination of boundaries that is at once global, but not external, not geographic but internal, biological, a virality of voiding implosions and literal dead-ends from within? As artists, curators, writers, what is our narrative, our script of care? As so many have already written, the images that come before us today are from science fiction, from films with everyone in N95 masks, wearing Nitrile gloves, moving haltingly through something with the density of water that holds the weight of immunological fear. Still, it isn't 1918, and the technological means of remote collaborations now taking place among medical researchers that will save many of us are the same means for us to unfold new exhibitionary practices, new kinds of spatial narratives that dilate, opening into tributaries of shared seeing, learning, and exchange. We are slipping into a more definable future-as-present in which the fusion of haptic experience (one thing touching another in physical space) and the experience of dematerialized objects in dematerialized, unrestricted spaces takes place in our viral era of lockdown.

With this new trajectory of crisis, curators are also shifting the trajectory of what can be called the hospitality of space, extending the space of care in online exhibitions under whose every pixel, if I can speak of “under” in this way, are both grief and a rising sense of curiosity and expansiveness. Every museum, Kunsthalle, art gallery, biennial, and art fair has or will likely soon start to employ these means to replicate the artworks and exhibitions they can’t share in haptic space. Even if supplemental, this is the extended exhibitionary reality for artists and curators. My own students are learning these skills now.

It's as if we have moved into a third affective phase of the Internet. First was the utopian imagining of a frictionless space of benevolent distribution. Then came the realization of malicious, opportunistic, manipulative practices correlative with surveillance capitalism that, of course, continue. But now in this third phase of the Internet, we have looped back to the opportunities for benevolence, a word whose Latin origins combine will and goodness, the will to do well. As curators, we have all the technological means to evolve this virtually extended hospitality, this remit of exhibitionary wellness for others in this different life, whose spaces may have contracted with frailty in one way, but now open out, now deepen in another.

Steven Henry Madoff, Chair, MA Curatorial Practice: T 212 592 2274 / macp [​at​]

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