As part of the Access and Reuse module, students were this year encouraged to visit any form of Moving Image presentation around Amsterdam and write a critical reflection on the curatorial practices of the institution as manifested in the presentation of the work. This first article of four to be published on our website, was co-written by Nadja Sicarov, Manuel Goetz and George Barker.
With the foreseeable end of Ann Goldstein’s directorship and the forthcoming appointment of a new head of the Stedelijk Museum at the end of 2013, criticism arose surrounding the museum’s recent programming developments. When Beatrix Ruf became the museum’s new director in November 2014, she was faced with a Stedelijk which allegedly acquired and exhibited predominantly western, established and well-acclaimed art, supposedly mimicking the curatorial practices of institutions like the MoMA or Tate. Particularly, in a survey conducted by the NRC in February 2014 which interviewed eight gallery owners, artists, collectors, curators and critics, there was a desire to see a renewed Stedelijk which would “offer (increased) room for non-western art and young talent”. Perhaps as a response to such media criticism, the museum is this year exhibiting a series of acquisitions of works from their public programme, showing the new work of emerging artists that they have “followed since the early stages of their careers”. This paper will examine the preview evening of Cally Spooner’s And You Were Wonderful, On Stage on the 15th January 2016 – the first in this series of exhibitions. Here, we find it important to consider to what extent this event can be considered as a reflection of a possible reshaping of curatorial practices in the Stedelijk which are geared towards the development of younger talent, and simultaneously a younger audience. Cally Spooner’s And You Were Wonderful, On Stage was commissioned by the Stedelijk museum as the part of the Amsterdam Public Programme in 2013 and was initially curated by Hendrik Folkerts and Annie Godfrey Larmon. The work, part performance art, part musical, was intended to be developed gradually and was not considered to be presented as a finished piece from its inception. Its evolutionary nature was reflected by another of its curators, Britte Sloothaak, in the Q&A of the Friday night event, who stated that it in it’s life cycle it has had the features of a “live event”, yet involving “cinematography” but also that it is an “arrangement” and a form of “choreography”. Equally, as the work has moved between galleries and museums it has developed under the baton of various curators – Charles Aubin, Laura McLean-Ferris and RoseLee Goldberg from Performa 13, Catherine Wood and Capucine Perrot from the Tate Modern, as well as under the EMPAC residency where the piece was filmed. However, the Stedelijk is keen to emphasise its overarching involvement in the development of the work over the last two years, not only as they were the inaugural commissioners of the work, in that they were “there from the scratch”, but also that “they were closely involved with creating the piece” as Sloothaak stated in interview. Such a thorough and prolonged investment in the development and production of the work of a young artist by an established institution like the Stedelijk could be perceived as being “rare” or “special” as in the words of Sloothaak. However, the engagement of a curator in the creation of a work is also not such an exceptional praxis in the contemporary curatorial discourse of the art museum. Rather, the shifting role of curators and their growing correlation with artistic creative activity have been arousing polemics since the late 80’s. The curator as an agent between the public and an artist is taking greater part in the regulation of cultural value within the institutionalized framework. As it is of great importance for an artist to be recognized by an institution, the line between a curator and an artist is diminished in the process of production and presentation, and as J.J. Charlesworth writes, the artist as curator “emerges from the collapse of any viable distinction between the work of the artists and the curators”. Therefore, the issue of changing curatorial influence remains undefined, as Sloothaak emphasized during the Q&A, in that she “wouldn’t know what the ‘classical’ way of working is”. However, the overlapping roles of both parties (the young curator Britte and the young artist Cally), fits with the initiative of Stedelijk to acquire and represent works of young artists and, on the other hand, also attracts a younger audience. As Paul O’Neill writes on issues in contemporary curation, “It is mostly the work of art exhibited in a widely publicized event that meets the standards set for the proper object of consumption, that stand the chance of maximizing the shock while avoiding the risk of boredom, which would strip it of its ‘entertainment value’”. Therefore, it is significant to look also at the context of the evening and its equivalent promotion as another sphere or dimension in which to reconceive both the curation of the Stedelijk and Cally’s work. Media consumption in forms of theatrical, structured events are discussed in And You Were Wonderful, On Stage along the lines of mediated liveness. Likewise presented in the mediated space of the museum, as a temporal event, the Thank God It’s Friday (TGIF) series (a weekly late night opening of the museum) in which the preview of the exhibition took place enhances the character of the event, inviting the consumption of the work with a glass of champagne in the hand, and for the visitors to “bring (their) fling”. Remediated as a show through colloquial online advertising campaigns, the installation may be then rendered into a spectacle which people could discuss but would rarely experience in entirety – very few visitors stayed in the exhibition space beyond ten minutes during the event. Making the preview event even more of a determiner of the receptive context of the work is the lack of any online access given to the piece by the Stedelijk. Whilst the Tate published a full-length recording of their live version of the piece, the Stedelijk, presenting the work not as a live performance but as a recorded event, did not deliver any online presentation except for documentational photographs. Considering that the five channel installation itself discussed questions of liveness and the mediated choreography of events especially on television, it is perhaps paradoxical that the access to the work here is at its most limited, and at its least ‘live’ despite it being hailed as the most ‘completed’ form of the musical. Although the publications on the event maintain that it is still more ‘live event’ than cinematic, the loss of live performance alongside the loss of an inaugural live event that is accessible online would suggest the contrary, particularly in comparison to the pieces previous incarnations. Steinbrügge writes that the “economy of images” is infinitely malleable in the contemporary art context, and that it is the curator’s task to show “each work in such a way that allows the viewer to experience its specificities”. Perhaps here, there is a slight loss of liveness integral to the piece in the access given to the work as the preview event was only accessible to a smaller audience, in this case of about fifty attendees. Instead of being shown online, the live context of the exhibition event is then incorporated within the TGIF initiative, which was established and promoted by the blikopener group, who are perhaps appropriately another youth programme organised by the Stedelijk. As a new strategy of museum communication, the Blikopeners Facebook-page reflects the museum’s attempts to address a younger audience. Organized by 15-19 year-olds, who work part-time at the Stedelijk, the page, as well as their website, makes use of social media interfaces naturalized for digital natives through their everyday presence on platforms such as Instagram (the ongoing flow of images without much text) and Twitter (grouping and linking posts via subsuming hashtags). Attempting to readdress that the museum is not just for “boring, old people”, there is perhaps a convergence between the programming of Cally’s work, which disseminates figures of popular culture (Beyonce, Lance Armstrong) and this notion of revitalising the Stedelijk for a younger, more ‘plugged-in’ target audience. As Hull and Scott point out, “although museum’s have traditionally directed visitors’ attentions towards the historical and aesthetic dimensions of objects and artists, and purposed themselves as the vanguards of this history whilst disseminating expert knowledge to their visitors through carefully crafted curations, we can imagine the possibilities for hybridizing the kinds of digital curatorial practices of youth with those of museums”. Whether the Blikopener’s creation of TGIF constitutes any curatorial capacity remains fairly uncertain, as the function of the event is more promotional and organizational, as opposed than having a sway in the acquisition of works for the Stedelijk. However, the convergence of the Blikopener’s colloquial advertising strategies alongside the presentation of the work of a new emerging artist which was introduced by an interview with a relatively young curator, points towards an institution which is making attempts to reconfigure its status amongst other contemporary art museums. As the Stedelijk will presumably continue to exhibit the public programme artists under the rubric of the TGIF context throughout the year, it could be said that the museum seems to be following contemporary institutional tendencies towards “short-lived temporal events” which may just alter the long-term value of the context of the work. Such a mode of curation and access through a youth centred event may be conceived as either diminishing the value of Cally’s work, or perhaps also complimenting it. It remains open however, if the acquisition of the work – the acquisition of the workflow rather – leaves open the possibility for future presentation, or if the event character of the work implies a short, ephemeral lifespan. Bibliography Charlesworth, JJ., “Curating Doubt” in Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance (Eds.) Judith Rugg and Michele Sedgwick (Bristol: Intellect Books, 2007). Hull, G. and John Scott, “Curating and Creating Online” in Museum Communication and the Social Media: The Connected Museum (Eds.) Kirsten Drotner and Kim Christian Schrøder (New York: Routledge, 2013). Kammer, Claudia, and Sandra Smallenburg. “‘Stedelijk Moet Ruimte Bieden Aan Niet-westerse Kunst En Jong Talent’.” NRC Handelsblad [Amsterdam] 13 Feb. 2014. Print. Steinbrügge, B., “Modes of Curatorial Practice: Moving between art, cinema and performance” in Keynote Lecture for The Shape of Things, the symposium of 4th Auckland Triennial (22 May 2010) http://aucklandtriennial.com/static/archive/2010/events/pdf/bettinasteinbrugge.pdf accessed 21/01/2016. O’Neill, P., “The Curatorial Turn: From Practice to Discourse” in Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance (Eds.) Judith Rugg and Michele Sedgwick (Bristol: Intellect Books, 2007).