Five Challenges to Curating Your Own Online Exhibition

by Daniel Temkin on July 8, 2016 AFC Workshops

Daniel Temkin heads up the AFC workshop on building your own exhibition online.

Daniel Temkin heads up the AFC workshop on building your own exhibition online.

With the ever rising cost of real estate, the traditional format of an exhibition in a gallery is giving way to the infinite possibilities of online shows. Two Saturdays ago, I gave a workshop for AFC’s 21st Century Survival for Artist Series in which I discussed some of the challenges to curating in this medium. I’ve highlighted five below, but there’s enough work to be done in the medium that I could write several posts on the subject and still not be done. Consider this a primer.

      Many online shows build on media that is already tied to the Web, such as:
  • Interactive pieces and online storytelling
  • GIF-based shows, collecting these images native to online exchange. A Bill Miller’s GIF free for all speaks to the format’s democratic, ubiquituous nature, mirroring the chaos and idealism of the early Web. The online gallery ANI GIF had solo shows of gif works from 2011 to 2014 or so.
  • Shows that have the Web itself as its subject. The wonderful Not Found Exhibition (archived here) could only exist as an online show. My own exhibition, NetVVorth, had online content and exchange as its subject, asking digital artists to make counterfeit works.
Other media, such as photography, may be everywhere on the Web but for now is mostly confined to the “online portfolio” format, implying that the print is still considered the ideal experience of the work. This will likely change as photographs and still images appear in more online shows, such as My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days and the online component of The Real-Fake.

Social media and art-sharing platforms like New Hive or Tumblr are an easy option. These are very configurable; Cloaque shows how un-Tumblry a Tumblr can be. Although there is worry that these platforms will disappear, in the short term it’s far more likely for an online gallery to be taken down (the list of online galleries at includes many that are now gone:
If you do your own hosting, the options for design expand considerably. It’s good to start off deciding how noticeable / intrusive the design itself should be. A few options to consider:
Simple Design
“Difficult” Design
 Some work asks for design that is unusual or more challenging for the viewer; the Temporary Stedelijk features immersive works that retain that sense even contained in boxes. Here the changing menu helps focus us on a few works at a time, even with many pieces stuffed onto the same page.
No design
If you decide to go your own way, sometimes no design at all works best.
 Beware not to artificially recreate limitations of meatspace exhibitions.  Recreating a gallery in 3D inhibits access to the work (see: Exhibbit), as can sub-dividing shows into artificial “rooms” that are nonsensical on the Web. However, there are always exceptions if your show engages with the institution itself, like the fantastic DiMoDa project.

If you’re asking artists to create work, be very clear about deadlines and expectations from the beginning:
  • A deadline for agreeing to be in the show
  • A deadline for when the work needs to be ready. Make this about a week before you actually need it. Someone will definitely send you work a week late.
  • Acceptable formats and max sizes for work. Remind in subsequent emails. Make sure this is in line with your hosting strategy.
Be aware of how much you’re asking of people: if you’re asking artists to make work they’re unlikely to be able to use again, expect a good number of artists to flake out.
If possible, two months is a great amount of time for artists to get ready, especially if they will have to make new  work for it. Any more and they’ll forget; less and it’s more likely to conflict with other commitments.
Send reminders / gentle nagging masked in excitement and encouragement. If you haven’t heard back from some artists, send them an update with all the exciting artists who have agreed to be in the show.

Mailing services like MailChimp are fine but many journalists and curators will never see the email; these will often be redirected into folders for mailing lists, if not discarded as spam. Much better to put something individual at the top of each email, with a friendly, short (one sentence or so) greeting to serve as a reminder of how they know you or highlighting what may interest them in the show.

Some shows (like the Wrong) end at a certain time and are taken offline with no archive. Others (like My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days) are never taken offline, simply have the links pushed back from the front page of the gallery site after some time has passed. There are pieces which entirely blend documentation and the work itself. Inf3xxx10n was a “show” with an open password that anyone could submit to (or clear work from), existing now as screenshots and an archive of posts. If you’re hosting work that might sit on the artists’ servers (for larger works), link rot will set in, but this can be embraced as part of the flow of the Web.

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