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.