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Updated: August 8, 2013 17:30 IST

Art practice and the curator

Harshini Vakkalanka
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Must break structures: Kathrin Rhomberg.
The Hindu Must break structures: Kathrin Rhomberg.

Kathrin Rhomberg says we have to question the idea of an exhibition and see if we can develop other formats to showcase art.

Kathrin Rhomberg who curated the 6th Berlin Biennale says it’s important from time to time to look at art practise from a broader perspective than just the exhibition.

“I studied art history and since the beginning of the 90s, I have been working with artists, who are, naturally involved in contemporary art, which I feel began in the early 90s. I was part of this development as a curator and now after 20 years of development of this specific movement of art, theoreticians start to look back to understand what contemporary art might be,” said Kathrin, who was in town at the Max Mueller Bhavan to talk about contemporary art and curatorial practise.

“And so I think it’s important from time to time to try to analyse the art system in which we are working. Often we lose ourselves in details and we don’t know more than what we are doing because we do not understand the context properly.”

What Kathrin means by the art system, is the context. She addressed this idea through the work of a German artist. “I wanted to explain context in which he is embedded through his art, and talk about the normalising tendencies in contemporary art and I will also try to explain what contemporary art is, which could be a new kind of art rather than a new art.”

The curator, according to Kathrin plays a crucial role in this art system.“I would say that it’s a new profession because until the 80s the curator did not exist. Art historians were making shows. The curator is an outcome of the contemporary art system and it has to do with professionalisation of art world,” she explains.

“Professionalisation means that the art world has become part of the economic system and artists are trained to study how to make exhibitions to sell their works. The schools are training them to sell themselves, their thoughts and products…” The phenomenon of art fairs and exhibitions, which are clear formats of showcasing art, as conducted by museums and galleries is also a part of professionalism.

“So exhibition-making has become a controlled and manageable system.” Kathrin is now studying amateurism, which offers a possibility or method to break through these professional structures and she says, there are several artists working with this. “Here we look at the method of the artist, how he developed specific methods to break through professional structures and address cultural, psychological or political issues in a different way,” she explains.

“Being a curator, you can address urgencies (issues) in society like writers do with their books or filmmakers with their films. It’s an interesting format to address important issues which should be discussed or shared publicly. My aim is to rethink exhibition-making, though I think this is more a European issue or a Western issue. We have an overproduction of exhibitions, so I think we have to question if we need exhibitions and see if we can develop other formats.”

Kathrin says she does not know how much of this applies to India, all she notices about exhibition-making in India is the presence of self-organized initiatives, which she finds fascinating.

“It is difficult to talk about a country I do not know, from the outside. But from previous research I can see that India has a tradition of arts activities which involve public gatherings. I hope that places like India develop new formats that are not a copy what the West formulated or developed in last 100 years,” she points out. “The initiatives I see seem to combine local traditions with a cosmopolitan point of view, and this is special .”

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