In 2013, Italian curator Germano Celant reconstructed Harald Szeemann’s seminal exhibition Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form. The contemporary iteration, When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013, was fiercely committed to the architectural and spatial relationships of the original Bern exhibition. In Celant’s ambition to ‘exhibit an exhibition’,(1) the internal façade of the 1969 Kunsthalle Bern was literally recreated inside the Ca’ Corner della Regina, Venice.
In 2018, the National Gallery of Victoria restaged their canonical exhibition The Field. Fifty years after its original, The Field Revisited was transplanted from its St Kilda Road site and installed in the top level of the NGV Australia at Federation Square with a degree of exactitude permitted by the architecture of the new galleries.
These exhibitions can be defined as recurated exhibitions, a term that implicates curatorial agency across time and space.
The recurated exhibition is inherently temporal. Mobilised by and for contemporary audiences, it sits oddly between the past and future; not quite anachronistic, not quite speculative. It is both afforded its power, and then undermined, by this status. In the wake of hegemonic Western philosophy, it is given weight for its definitive association to the past, the temporal state deemed the most knowable for its apparent historical solidity. In cultural theorists Suhail Malik and Armen Avanessian’s essay, The Time-Complex. Postcontemporary, (2) published in conjunction with the 9th Berlin Biennale of Contemporary Art: The Present in Drag, the authors attack this very assumption in an assault of contemporaneity. For them, contemporaneity, is too reliant on the ‘past as a place of semantic security.’(3) In a concurrent essay for the 9th Berlin Biennale, empirical economist Elena Esposito’s The Construction of Unpredictability points to the impossibility of the future.(4) From a theoretical framework of prediction and risk, Esposito agrees that the post-contemporary is defined by a condition of the future existing in the present, which is ultimately ‘more unknowable the more one tries to anticipate it.’(5) The recurated exhibition actualises this risk. In the present, exhibition histories and future discourses interact, scared of what they might reveal about one another.
At the moment the recurated exhibition accepts speculation as the only certainty it distorts temporal linearity. More and more, the assumed unidirectional momentum of time is being undermined by contemporary art’s interrogation of historical truths. The archive is no longer stable, and the original has lost all meaning beyond cultural commodity, now a mere suggestion of a moment past.
In Director of Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Jochen Volz’s introduction for the 2019 Verbier Art Summit publication, We Are Many: Art, the Political and Multiple Truths, he defined art’s power in the context of a world rapidly consumed by ‘strategic lies, fake news, historical revisionism and manipulated truths.’(6) He declared: “Art is grounded in imagination, and only through imagination will we be able to envision other narratives of our past and new ways into the future.”(7) If in the recurated exhibition’s imagination does not find its expression in design or the selection of artworks, it must search for a point of tension or contest to radicalise an imagined future. The strategy must be mobilised as a reframing, a re-evaluation of the ethics and necessity of recurating the past in a radically transformed present. The recurated exhibition can no longer rely on postmodernism’s obsession with appropriating the past and contemporaneity’s fetishisation of the present.
It is no question that the examples presented, at the Fondazione Prada, Venice and the National Gallery of Victoria, exist as a result of their privileged, Eurocentric positions in a global art ecology. They are exhibitions informed by art historical and political dominance which ultimately enabled their canonisation. It becomes evident that this curatorial strategy must be politicised in order to be truly effective. More akin to curator Gabi Ngcobo’s curatorial methodology of ‘unknowing’ (8), the recurated exhibition can only truly confront the singular truths of the past if it deprivileges the value systems that exist within it. The recurated exhibition must disrupt hegemonic ways of thinking and foster contradiction. Until it is governed by this commitment, it stands to be merely an archive in real-time, rendered nostalgic and deliberately out of touch with the circumstances of its new time.