The Exhibitionist calls itself a journal ‘by curators, for curators’, a slogan that makes it sound titillatingly exclusive. Indeed, the front cover of this first issue features the façade of Duchamp’s ‘Etant Données’ with its two peepholes, beckoning the reader to peek inside. Disappointingly, there is no hidden erotic scene behind this door, just a lot of text and a smattering of mostly black-and-white installation shots about which only curators could have wet dreams. Likewise, there is little insider gossip or divulging of curatorial secrets—no top tips for the next hottest art region, the biennial theme most likely to attract funding, or the best all-expenses-paid ‘professional visit’. It’s mostly about exhibitions.
It turns out that The Exhibitionist is more introvert than exhibitionist, more ascetic than aesthetic. Unlike the recent art-magazine trend for Hello-style photos of celebrities, snappy headlines and provocative pull-quotes, The Exhibitionist is extremely sober and academic in layout. Perhaps curators like to demonstrate how hardworking and unfrivolous they are, like Hans Ulrich Obrist’s infamous Brutally Early Club, the super-early networking coffee morning for super-busy art professionals. I like to imagine that this international editorial board conducts its bi-annual meetings on a brutally early flight en route to an art fair or biennial in Sharjah, Shanghai or Miami.
As if there was any doubt he wouldn’t be involved, Obrist is on The Exhibitionist’s advisory board. But the real brains behind this project is Jens Hoffmann, whose strong views on curating as a creative act and exhibition-making as a form of argument, can be felt throughout. The idea of the curator-as-author is reinforced by the choice of iconic French film journal Cahiers du cinema as the primary inspiration for The Exhibitionist, from the dedication of this issue to Nouvelle Vague auteur Eric Rohmer, 1920-2010, to the journal’s yellow cover.
For those who know Hoffmann’s playful curatorial style, the names of the various editorial sections echo his quirky yet pithy exhibition titles. For example, ‘Curators’ Favorites’ (international spelling and punctuation reflects the journal’s global ambitions) reprises Hoffmann’s Artists’ Favourites exhibition at the ICA, London, in 2004, while the subdivision of the journal into past, present and future continues his interest in durational projects like his three-year Magnificent Seven show at CCA Wattis, where he is currently director.
In his editorial, Hoffmann talks about the need for a platform for frequent and interconnected conversations for curators, but he isn’t specific about why other art magazines don’t adequately address curators’ interests. Perhaps it’s because critics’ reviews tend to focus on the artworks and are often descriptive and evaluative, whereas curators prefer to direct their attention to the exhibition’s premise, and often can’t help comparing it to their own curatorial style and strategies. For his contribution to ‘Curator’s Favorites’, Jean-Hubert Martin writes eloquently about Jean-Jacques Lebel’s recent show at the Pompidou, admiring his mix of high and low, modern and pre-modern culture—the same mix, in fact, that got Martin into trouble in 1989 for his exhibition Magiciens de la Terre. Nonetheless, three different perspectives on the last Istanbul Biennial—in a section called ‘Assessments’—works better and combines to offer a vivid account of some of the challenges that emerged from the biennial curators’ (the collective What, How, and for Whom) promise of curatorial transparency and uncompromising political attitudes.
For the opinion piece ‘Attitude’, Adriano Pedrosa discusses the Venice Biennale, defending the privileged status of the main curated exhibition in the face of increasing commercialisation, internal politics and the subtraction of territory from the Arsenale to make room for pavilion-less nations like Chile and the UAE willing to pay a hefty premium for a strategic location. Next year’s Istanbul Biennial will be jointly curated by Pedrosa and Jens Hoffman—could it be they are nervously anticipating the impending realpolitik?
The Exhibitionist joins a small but growing resource of writing—mostly anthologies of essays—on exhibitions and their history, that focus as much on curators as artists. At their best, these publications remind us that exhibitions don’t arrive fullyfledged, but involve months, sometimes years of research and negotiation with no certainty of success, as the Guggenheim’s Nancy Spector acknowledges in her article about the ‘beautiful, perfect failure’ of her exhibition Theanyspacewhatever. The Exhibitionist is a brave venture at a time when print magazines are struggling for survival. If Hoffmann can guard against fetishising celebrity curators and indulging too much mea culpa, it could set standards for new modes of documenting and reflecting on exhibitions.
Jennifer Thatcher is a critic and lecturer, and project co-ordinator for the 2011 Folkestone Triennial