Is Hans Ulrich Obrist an Alien? AFC Reports from the Guggenheim

by Karen Archey on July 21, 2009 · 18 comments Events

POST BY KAREN ARCHEY
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Karen Archey, Art Fag City, A Brief History of Curating
Hans Ulrich Obrist. Image via WalterHopps.com

Honestly, I can’t really give you an appropriate introduction to yesterday’s discussion with Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Guggenheim. Why, you may ask? Well, because I was misdirected to three different ticket lines by museum staff, and taken deep into the bowels of the building, making me late to a TELEVISED SCREENING of the sold-out panel among Guggenheim Director Richard Armstrong, curator Nancy Spector and Serpentine co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist. When I did finally reach my seat, the discussion did well to elucidate that Obrist very well may be an alien. Obrist, in his thick Swiss German accent, spoke tangentially about esoteric curatorial facts, usually leaving the Guggenheimers (Spector and Armstrong) awkwardly speechless. Not to “toot my own horn,” but I wrote a thesis on curatorial studies and speak intermediate German and still had a horrible time keeping up with Obrist's accent-heavy tangents.

I can't really complain, though: given that the curator was publicizing his new book, A Brief History of Curating, one would expect that the discussion be rife with encyclopedic curatorial information. Regardless, it's disappointing that Obrist didn't offer more insightful “a-ha” moments during the discussion. A couple well-considered questions from audience members helped direct panelists in a more engaging direction, including one about the insular nature of curatorial practice itself. Obrist agreed this question is worthy of consideration, introducing a much-needed sense of levelheadedness to the discussion. Among the few bits of wisdom to be taken away from the evening include the curatorial adage to “Look again, and again and again”; and that, although the history of art is largely one of objects, we can look to oral or experiential histories to challenge the history of art-as-commodity. Although he’s undeniably a gifted historian and curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist would probably benefit from climbing down his ivory tower and getting his hands a little dirty.

  • retnull

    You have to read “Brief History of Curating”. It’s brilliant. It exposes a body of knowledge held by mostly now-departed curators. I had no idea how subtle and complex the concepts and practical activities of these pioneering curators were.

  • retnull

    You have to read “Brief History of Curating”. It’s brilliant. It exposes a body of knowledge held by mostly now-departed curators. I had no idea how subtle and complex the concepts and practical activities of these pioneering curators were.

  • retnull

    You have to read “Brief History of Curating”. It’s brilliant. It exposes a body of knowledge held by mostly now-departed curators. I had no idea how subtle and complex the concepts and practical activities of these pioneering curators were.

  • retnull

    You have to read “Brief History of Curating”. It’s brilliant. It exposes a body of knowledge held by mostly now-departed curators. I had no idea how subtle and complex the concepts and practical activities of these pioneering curators were.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Karen Archey

    Retnull —

    I’m looking forward to reading “Brief History of Curating.” With all this said I DO appreciate that he attempted to expose this little-known history. Were you at the discussion?

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Karen Archey

    Retnull —

    I’m looking forward to reading “Brief History of Curating.” With all this said I DO appreciate that he attempted to expose this little-known history. Were you at the discussion?

  • claroquesiputa

    he’s really weird.

  • claroquesiputa

    he’s really weird.

  • claroquesiputa

    he’s really weird.

  • ltan

    I find this post problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, if you had read or researched the book before the panel, you would know that in no way does it position itself to be encyclopedic. The interviews within it are completely anecdotal and subjective, which is precisely why it makes it so readable and interesting. The point of this discussion was transparently to promote this book and not to explore Obrist’s opinions on his own practice (which he does not speak about at all in the book). So, what type of “a-ha” moments did you expect from this? Additionally while you mention you wrote a thesis on curatorial studies, you do not specify what the focus of this thesis was. “Curatorial studies” does not necessarily have anything to do with the history of curating, and I found that aside completely irrelevant. And though a minor point, I speak no German and had no problems understanding Obrist. Clearly he is a over committed curator who rushed through much of this discussion but in no way does this make him an “alien”. Neither does speaking in an accent or referencing very specific moments from the book. It makes him a product of a hyperactive art world which may not allow him to properly prepare for every panel or lecture he gives. I may not have found the discussion very helpful as a curator, but there’s really no reason (and you didn’t offer one) to title this post the way you did.

  • ltan

    I find this post problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, if you had read or researched the book before the panel, you would know that in no way does it position itself to be encyclopedic. The interviews within it are completely anecdotal and subjective, which is precisely why it makes it so readable and interesting. The point of this discussion was transparently to promote this book and not to explore Obrist’s opinions on his own practice (which he does not speak about at all in the book). So, what type of “a-ha” moments did you expect from this? Additionally while you mention you wrote a thesis on curatorial studies, you do not specify what the focus of this thesis was. “Curatorial studies” does not necessarily have anything to do with the history of curating, and I found that aside completely irrelevant. And though a minor point, I speak no German and had no problems understanding Obrist. Clearly he is a over committed curator who rushed through much of this discussion but in no way does this make him an “alien”. Neither does speaking in an accent or referencing very specific moments from the book. It makes him a product of a hyperactive art world which may not allow him to properly prepare for every panel or lecture he gives. I may not have found the discussion very helpful as a curator, but there’s really no reason (and you didn’t offer one) to title this post the way you did.

  • http://jamiesterns.blogspot.com/ JS

    damn. right on (KA).

  • http://jamiesterns.blogspot.com/ JS

    damn. right on (KA).

  • http://jamiesterns.blogspot.com/ JS

    damn. right on (KA).

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Karen Archey

    Jamie — Thank you!!

    LTan —

    Apparently it went unnoticed that the post focuses solely on the DISCUSSION about the book, not the book itself. Like I stated in a previous comment, I look forward to reading the book. This does not disqualify me from writing about the discussion as an audience member as it seems to be suggested.

    Does anyone go to lectures to be unsatisfied and bored? I’m confused by the comment that Obrist is an “over-commited curator who “rushed through much of the discussion” and the comment “I may not have found the discussion very helpful as a curator…(but there’s really no reason…to title this post the way you did.”)

    My labeling him an alien is just as much condemning as it is laudatory and jocular. See the last sentence of the post, “Although he’s undeniably a gifted historian and curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist would probably benefit from climbing down his ivory tower and getting his hands a little dirty.” Obrist is hyper-educated in an insular field, actively alienating public audiences. He noted his curatorial practice exists in the public sphere: wouldn’t it be advantageous for him to hold discussions accessible to the public, let alone art world professionals? I even spoke to a curator that worked with Walter Hopps who had a difficult time keeping up with Obrist. This isn’t to say he’s “stupid,” far from it. He simply needs to consider his audience more thoroughly.

    I bring up his accent because I had difficulty with it and numerous parties mentioned it was a problem for them as well. Also, obviously writing a thesis in curatorial studies suggests that I have a greater knowledge of curatorial history than the average bear. I focused on the history of the documenta.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Karen Archey

    Jamie — Thank you!!

    LTan —

    Apparently it went unnoticed that the post focuses solely on the DISCUSSION about the book, not the book itself. Like I stated in a previous comment, I look forward to reading the book. This does not disqualify me from writing about the discussion as an audience member as it seems to be suggested.

    Does anyone go to lectures to be unsatisfied and bored? I’m confused by the comment that Obrist is an “over-commited curator who “rushed through much of the discussion” and the comment “I may not have found the discussion very helpful as a curator…(but there’s really no reason…to title this post the way you did.”)

    My labeling him an alien is just as much condemning as it is laudatory and jocular. See the last sentence of the post, “Although he’s undeniably a gifted historian and curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist would probably benefit from climbing down his ivory tower and getting his hands a little dirty.” Obrist is hyper-educated in an insular field, actively alienating public audiences. He noted his curatorial practice exists in the public sphere: wouldn’t it be advantageous for him to hold discussions accessible to the public, let alone art world professionals? I even spoke to a curator that worked with Walter Hopps who had a difficult time keeping up with Obrist. This isn’t to say he’s “stupid,” far from it. He simply needs to consider his audience more thoroughly.

    I bring up his accent because I had difficulty with it and numerous parties mentioned it was a problem for them as well. Also, obviously writing a thesis in curatorial studies suggests that I have a greater knowledge of curatorial history than the average bear. I focused on the history of the documenta.

  • Brad

    What ivory tower? Obrist regularly seeks out and visits young people working in many different fields and industries. He is one of the most approachable, affable, secure and open minded individuals of his kind. His work is one of social networking — he meets people and lets them inform him — he learns rather than teaches. Then he goes on to meet their friends and they people they recommend to him. Not one person as internationally visible and prominent in contemporary art has worked with so many people both marginal and mainstream.

    The post’s “jocular” title seems to be a kind of yellow paper strategy at harvesting attention. With the muscular google presence of this blog though, it casts a rather negative light not so much on Obrist, as the post’s author, Karen Archey. It’s obvious she has a tenuous relationship with her subject (if any correspondence has transpired between them at all), and is fairly unfamiliar with his work or operational mode.

  • Brad

    What ivory tower? Obrist regularly seeks out and visits young people working in many different fields and industries. He is one of the most approachable, affable, secure and open minded individuals of his kind. His work is one of social networking — he meets people and lets them inform him — he learns rather than teaches. Then he goes on to meet their friends and they people they recommend to him. Not one person as internationally visible and prominent in contemporary art has worked with so many people both marginal and mainstream.

    The post’s “jocular” title seems to be a kind of yellow paper strategy at harvesting attention. With the muscular google presence of this blog though, it casts a rather negative light not so much on Obrist, as the post’s author, Karen Archey. It’s obvious she has a tenuous relationship with her subject (if any correspondence has transpired between them at all), and is fairly unfamiliar with his work or operational mode.

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