Updated: Jun 30, 2020
In 2011, the exhibition ‘Another Story: Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection’ was a landmark rehanging of the collection that featured only photographs dating from 1840 to 2010 (figs.1, 2). Historical and contemporary work was shown side by side. Writing about the particular questions museums face when exhibiting photography, Anna Tellgren reflects especially on whether an exhibition focus on ‘photography as art’ also means collecting vintage prints or their negatives. The negative provides a curator or photo historian with a possibility, in many cases, of presenting other versions of the photograph in terms of size and scale in print and on screen. A lesson the museum learned from this exhibition was that they needed to foster public engagement as least as much as public enjoyment..
The museum decided that a re-design of pedagogical aids was needed to promote a knowledge about the general history of photography as well as the lives and works of the artists exhibited (fig.3). Similarly, the Gallery of Photography in Dublin runs practical courses in historical photographic processes, book binding workshops, scanning and conservation, as well as public discussions and critical events. The aim is to enhance public attention with specific educational activities (figs.4, 5, 6).
Six years after the re-hang, already discussed, the Moderna Museet presented ‘Before and Behind Bars’. This was an exhibition about the role of photographic images in art and the transformation of the medium since the 19th Century. Rather than having only one purpose 'the key thing when it comes to photography at the museum is to continue to work on and research the collection while also continually exhibiting it' (Tellgren, 2018). The exhibition was supported by guided tours, discussions, artist talks and symposiums.
The same kind of critical reflection was behind the Museum21 symposium at IMMA in 2008. The event featured six international artists, curators and historians, who brought their perspectives to a set of formal questions addressed during the symposium, which included:
What is the point of a museum in the 21st-century? How can galleries and museums best serve a mobilised multicultural public? Has the need to attract an audience and funding made the artistic or intellectual credibility of galleries and museums questionable? Are public galleries and museums still the main sites for cultural innovation and the reception of contemporary art?
The question of what a museum might stand for in terms of photography was asked by PhotoIreland as part of the festival programme in 2019. At its one-day symposium guest curators, with experience working at the George Eastman House and Fotomuseum Winterthur, addressed how the history of photography in the museum has been far from stable. Underpinning this was the festival's contention that changing technologies behind photography's ubiquity has made it difficult to contain within discrete institutional boundaries (PhotoIreland, 2019).
Academic and curator Paul O’Neill has focussed on the division between artist and curator. Many arguments in this discourse have yearned for a cultural value of the artist over the curator, that the artist’s word should be taken over the curator. Writer Gertrud Sandqvist has a counter argument on this mentality, she suggests that the curated exhibition should not reflect the identity of the curator or of the artist, and that the artist and curator risk becoming a trademark of each other. In Loney Abrams' (2013) appraisal of O’Neill's analysis, he contends that O'Neill does not adequately address the role the curator has in our understanding of an artwork if we view it online rather than in the gallery space. Abrams addresses this missing scenario through a set of questions:
If we primarily come to know art online, then what role does online curation play in the contemporary art world? Have bloggers initiated a de-professionalization of curating? And how does contemporary curating not only reflect the way in which we see work, but also present artworks whose medium is virtual and web-based? - Abrams.
Maria Lind proposes a hybrid approach in which the role of the curator, whom she names instead as the provider. This role combines what the curator provides, which is a means of creating possibilities for producing and exhibiting art, from someone who digests, historical and contemporary culture, helping to exhibit new work and being able to separate other works of artists so that they are not too similar with the position of the creator. The creator discerns patterns and poses questions, makes suggestions and strives to make exhibitions more than the sum of their parts (fig 5).
Lind sees the exhibition as a discussion between the audiences and those involved in its creation. Since Lind presented this concept, it has become common to hear mainstream museums refer to their part in the broader cultural conversation globally (Artists and Curators, 2014).
Kerrigan, D. (2020) 'Pedagogical openness' in Curating Photography: Poolside. TU Dublin: BA Photography [Online]. Available at www.curating.photography/post/darragh-kerrigan
Abrams, L. (2013) ‘The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s)’, The Brooklyn Rail, Available at: https://brooklynrail.org/2013/04/art_books/the-culture-of-curating-and-the-curating-of-cultures
Another Story Photography from Modern Museet Collection (2012) Available at: https://www.modernamuseet.se/stockholm/en/exhibitions/another-story/ (Accessed: 17 April 2020)
Artists and Curators (2014) Available at: https://visualartists.ie/the-manual/artists-and-curators/ (Accessed 31 March 2020).
Museum21 Symposium at IMMA (2008) Available at: https://imma.ie/about/press-centre/museum21-symposium-at-imma/ (Accessed: 21 April 2020)
O’Neill, P. (2012) ‘Curating as a Medium of Artistic Practice’ in The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), pp 126-129.
PhotoIreland (2019) Photography and the Museum: Contradictory Histories and Contemporary Perspectives. Available at http://museum.photoireland.org/july-2019/symposium-photography-museum/ (Accessed 31 March 2020).
Tellgren, A. (2018) ‘Exhibiting a Collection of Photography’ in Why Exhibit? Positions on Exhibiting Photographies, Eds. Anna-Kaisa Rastenberger and Iris Sikking, pp 255-267
Figs 1 Cameron, J. M. (1866). The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty.
Fig 2 Sherman, C. Untitled #470 (2008) Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures.
Fig 3 Bates, T. (2018) Review of online learning: open pedagogy. Available at https://www.tonybates.ca/2018/12/26/2018-review-of-online-learning-open-pedagogy/
Fig 4 Workshops at Gallery of Photography, Dublin. Available at: https://www.galleryofphotography.ie/engagement/
Fig 5 Qiong li (n.d.) How to work with galleries and collectors as emerging artists. Available at: https://thecreativeindependent.com/guides/how-to-work-with-galleries-and-collectors-as-an-emerging-artist/