IN A BRIEF History of Curating, Hans-Ulrich Obrist speaks candidly with Lucy Lippard about the most significant motivation for the creation of his oral history: the lack of documentation in the history of exhibition and curation. Hence the term “Brief History” rather than “Interviews” appearing in the title. In this book, Obrist interviews 11 veteran curators from Europe and America—that is to say, art pioneers from the older generations. The solemn preface and postscript may seem unfamiliar to Chinese readers, as may the long list of acknowledgements, but they will still be able to empathize with the respectful sense of revolution. The conversations are often heated, sparking many emotions as well as genuine sentiments and questions from the reminiscing interviewees. In today’s information explosion, it is essential for the arts worker to learn how to effectively acquire and digest information; the following will discuss this book’s function as a “reference book” for Chinese readers.
First, this book can be regarded as a resource collection with a great deal of educational value to those working in similar fields. 1) Through reading this book, we can gain an understanding of the social environment experienced by these older-generation curators, as well as of important events in art history, matters of principle, and choices and perseverance in practice; 2) Through the filtering and classification of information, we can quickly employ a sorting method to integrate important exhibitions, critics’ preferences and similar in- formation into known art histories and systems; 3) The exhibitions, artworks, organizations, monographs, publications, and independent art magazines (more than you could possibly imagine) referred to in Brief History can assist in conducting investigations and advanced studies; 4) Through linking the significant viewpoints in these records to one’s own circumstances and positions on art, one may better reflect on oneself.
Second, from the content we can also study the essentials of interview method and conversational skill. Before we can have any kind of effective communication in art, we have to undertake a certain amount of preparation. When preparing questions for a meeting or interview, one must first draw up the main points, as well as one’s expectations as to information gained. If one should encounter resistance or evasion from the interviewee, one should promptly turn to an alternative questioning plan; one should avoid interrupting the interviewee’s train of thought as much as possible, but aim for a pleasant discus- sion conducted through mutual trust and valued emotion.
The people, events, and topics discussed in this book are already separated from us by time, but any reader will able to find something they can sympathize with. Perhaps this owes to all the topics investigated and predicaments faced since the growth of the industry, all of which are always on the verge of overlapping. These questions range from the never-ending art- related discussion on politics, gender, and place, to a question raised by Anne d’Harnoncourt: “Do you believe that it is necessary to place labels on the wall? Or should we just hang the artwork and ask the visitors to understand it by themselves?”
Moreover, the wealth of information in these interviews also tells us that insight—that is to say, the depth and breadth of knowledge—is a necessary precursor to understanding and investigating any question. However, the emergence of these events and exhibitions tells us that at the end of the day, a connected, healthy, energetic art world requires its participants to possess a willingness to learn both from inside their own field and beyond, as well as an undying passion that “to be accompanied by art alone is enough.” (Translated by Sarah Stanton)