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[Rivets + Denizens]
Collaborative Curatorial Models in Theory and Practice
Curated by Ron Goldin
Natalie Bookchin
Heath Bunting
Ron Goldin
Beryl Graham
Patrick Lichty
Lev Manovich
Mark Napier/Liza Sabater
Christiane Paul
Joel Slayton
Benjamin Weil
Alena Williams
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Reconfiguring the Museum
Patrick Lichty on Feb 1 2002 rivets and denizens

Multiple new models of curation have evolved in stark contrast to the traditional model which centers itself around the expert opinion of the curator. Independent curators are utilizing alternative configurations of gallery space or abandoning it entirely, a rejection of the museum as a monopolistic cultural producer.

When I was a child, my parents took me to the Spring May shows at the local
museums, which at the time were the Akron Art Institute and Cleveland Museum of
Art in Northeast Ohio, USA. These exhibitions were popular showcases for local
talent, and were adjudicated by the museum staff and regional art faculty. As
a matter of passing, none of these shows exist at the turn of the millennium,
having been supplanted by more profitable touring exhibitions of works which
are more popular with the mainstream public. Although I strained to see over
the platforms to see some of the works in the shows as a child, I dimly
wondered about those who selected the art in the gallery(1). This was probably
the first inkling about a curiosity that would evolve into an erstwhile
avocation from my primary practice as a conceptual artist to explore art

In the thirty or so years that I have been experiencing the product of
curatorial practice, as well as the decade or so in which I have been involved
in the process of curation, the traditional models of this cultural practice
are being held circumspect in light of the coming of various media
technologies. The traditional model of curation, in its evolution since the
17th Century, centers itself around the ‘expert’ opinion of the curator as
educated connoisseur and archivist of various works. In so doing, the curator
determines the work’s cultural value, as well as in present days, their mass
entertainment value, which is equally important in the era of ubiquitous free
market democracy (at least in most of the Western world).

An important aspect of the process of curation and exhibition is the matrix of
power issues and legitimacy that arises in the act of selection, organization
and archival. Traditionally, the legitimization of the work or the institution
itself does not come from populist or democratic impulses, but from oligarchic
materialist practices originated with the birth of the museum. The focus of
the museum and the archival of ‘significant’ cultural artifacts have been
determined by oligarchic hegemony issuing forth from centers of capitalist,
academic, and political power, and as such the museum is often termed as a
‘materialist cathedral’ (2). Such imperatives are reflected in the names of
various museums, such as Whitney, Guggenheim, Getty, Kimbell, and Walker (3).
The result of this ‘top-down’ approach to culture has resulted in the curator’s
tack of thematically organizing bodies of work, frequently with little
collaborative interest in the material. But with the advent of the Internet,
the cultural centrality in cultural production of the museum is being called
into question by independent curators who are utilizing alternative
configurations of gallery space or abandoning it entirely. This resituation of
the gallery as problematic cultural space has been foregrounded in many ways,
including the aforementioned elision of the institution and the opening of the
curatorial process to allow for collaboration as well as surrender of control
to the artists. The traditional structures mentioned here of the curator as
centralized arbiter for the museum is, by and large, not conducive (although
there are exceptions) to the collaborative process between curator and artist
in shaping the nature of a given exhibition. That is, unless a given artist
has reached such fame and prestige that that artist may have the ability to
dictate parts of the exhibition to the curator. One may question whether this
is collaboration per se, in that I define such as the process in which the
artist and curator, after the initial selection of work or agreement to show,
work in a process that allows both to shape the final outcome of the

In the 1990’s, the coming of the Internet and other distributed media has
produced marked cultural effects upon technological society and the Western
world. The primary effect germane to this discussion is the ‘levelling’ effect
on society that the Internet has had (4). Although this is not as prevalent as
in the times up to the late 90’s when more intranets, and even the Internet 2
initiative was founded, the implication of internet culture was that given the
proper e-mail address, the average artist could communicate with leading
curators, given that they had time or the desire to read them. In addition,
the advent of the World Wide Web fostered in many the sense of communal sharing
of cultural data, whether art, baby pictures, or new essays, and so on (5).
The materialist impulse of the museum was brought into question with the coming
of, although such gallery practices are still extant. Groups such as
art collectives would join in practice through the Internet despite being in
disparate locales. And lastly, the rise of Internet culture, in the
proliferation of interactive works and collaborations, question the nature of
institutional boundaries and the power relations contrasting those individuals
possessing material in contrast to those with intellectual legitimacy. Such
shifts (the changing of capital, societal ‘levelling’) have inspired many
projects in which the curators have entered a more interactive process of
collaboration with their artists that are far different than the traditional
‘collaborations’ evident in the brick and mortar analogues of the traditional

Collaboration in contemporary curatorial practice

The collaborative model in contemporary exhibitions has been more located
within the genre of Net.Art than anywhere else, not surprising when considering
the model of interaction implied by distributed network culture. Although not
always held to, the ideal prototype of the Internet community was that of
sharing and collaboration, as popularized in the mass media by early e-pundits,
such as Barlow, Rheingold, and Negroponte. The relatively ‘flat’, rhizomatic,
or egalitarian social terrain of the early World Wide Web made for an
atmosphere where savvy artists with even an elementary knowledge of search
engines and access to the right trade magazines could find the arts ‘scene’.
Online forums were popular as components of online exhibitions, such as the
Walker Art Center’s ‘Shock of the View’(6) and ‘EATList’ (7), which almost
seemed to inspire its own sense of egalitarian debate (providing you had
Internet access and the knowledge of the site, which is another issue).

A brief note should be said in the contrast in constituency and content between
the exhibition lists like EAT and SotV and online organs like Rhizome and
thingist. First, the former organs exist in a limited timespan; as the latter
are of an ongoing nature. Also, the focus of the exhibition list is
topic-driven in contrast to the community lists’ open forum format. However,
of note is the nature of communication in these forums as more artists have
became more familiar with the Net. For example, earlier events ensured a sort
of gentrification of the audience, as primarily only a sort of ‘initiated’
would have the combined knowledge of the technology, the places where the
events would occur that acted as a kind of cultural filter. As time has
progressed, a wider audience has become aware of the lists (8), and various
artists have chosen to use the lists as a form of collaborative medium in which
they test the relative sensitivity to noise (spam). However, this is only
relevant to the nature of the online community, which is a framework for
curatorial collaboration.

Steve Dietz’ Art Entertainment Network at the Walker Art Center (9) is one of
the few examples of a major online exhibition which encouraged a form of
collaborative curation. Although centralized in regards to the hierarchical
nature of the curatorial vision in that Dietz/Walker, the vision for the
exhibition was that of a rotating archive. This ever-changing model would
create a curatorial model that reflected the dynamic state of online art
practice, and serve as a portal for those wishing to see a broad spectrum of
online works. The curatorial model for this exhibition was quite traditional
in that the selection or commission of works was basically located around a
single curator, although the dynamic nature of the show allowed for a bit of
interplay with the artists and the curator. In addition, the inclusion of the
online art in a gallery installation contained within the concurrent “Let’s
Entertain” exhibition in the form of a screen embedded in a revolving door
allowed the gallery visitor to scroll (stroll?) through the works. The
recontextualization of the works in the gallery through the creatively
positioned portal allowed some curatorial collaboration in the repurposing of
the works in regard to their viewing context. Both the breadth of the exhibit
and the doorway metaphor for the gallery portal alluded to a vision of openness
and greater inclusion that was refreshing in institutional shows.

Although the AEN provided a relatively open forum for new media art, it was
still closely bound to a traditional curatorial model made broader by the lack
of physical limitations made possible by the Internet. The other end of the
spectrum would arguably include the works that allow free participation within
a curatorial project with only a topical guideline as shaping metaphor. Two
process-based exhibition spaces that hint at this procedural approach, and thus
hint at the potential for dynamic exhibition spaces, are Bonnie Mitchell’s
“Merging Identity”(10) and Ed Stastny’s "Merging Identity" was a
World Wide Web art installation that allowed individuals to collaboratively
assemble texts and images around the metaphor of bodily experience. In this
case, the installation was designed as a collaborative event, but Merging
Identities, through its metanarrative based on the central theme created a
curatorial focus for the participating artists. Also of note was that the
installation/exhibition was archived over time to document the changing
expressive configurations of the show. In contrast with the AEN, Merging leapt
from a dynamic set of curated works to a dynamically self-organizing body of
work based on general criteria.

Another dynamically user driven collaborative curatorial model lies within the website. Similar to the Exquisite Corpse approach made popular by the
Surrealists, the SITO site contains a number of ongoing works based on the
general criteria of using previously extant work in a sense of free
association. An example of this is the GridCosm, in which a square grid of
nine squares is defined with the center field consisting of a ‘seed’ image from
which artists reserve and upload their own additional images until the grid is
completed, at which time the completed grid is compiled to form the central
square of the next GridCosm level. At this time, GridCosm has existed for over
five years, and consists of over 800 levels.

It might be wise to consider whether this author might be conflating
collaborative projects with collaborative curatorial practices. Two key issues
that come to mind that might clarify the issues at hand are those of
institutional legitimation and artistic quantifitcation of works. Mitchell’s
work was inscribed within the gallery of the SIGGRAPH festival, sito at an
independent website. The objectifiying power of the museum was somewhat
present in the case of Merging Identities in its location within the gallery,
but surely not in the case of SITO. As works per se, each site was seen more
as a discrete project than an exhibition of works in itself. The argument of
this author is that both exhibit elements of curatorial objectification of
works in the interstitial quantification and archival of works at discrete
periods. What is at stake is the clarification of creative intent in how the
curator is defined; in the case of the AEN, the role of curator is clear, in
the two aforementioned works, the curatorial impulse is better described as a
parametric/algorithmic guidance of a general process.

Another example of an algorithmic curatorial process is evident in works that
place the database in the position of metanarrative artwork. Martin
Wattenberg’s Idealine at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Artport (12) asks artists to submit information documentary information into a database for use by his JAVA applet that takes the resulting information and maps it by genre,
distribution and time. Users of the applet then are offered access to the database of submitted works. Although this project has the potential for
open-endedness, Idealine also exhibits aspects of traditional curatorial metastructures that combine with the database data to create a work that could be perceived as artwork and curatorial tool in that it organizes the work into
a sort of broadly-defined ‘exhibition’ of sorts. However, Idealine also could
be argued as a work of online information design rather than a discrete
‘artwork’ as such, and writers such as Manovich are considering whether there
can be an art of the database.

Another work that is not curatorial per se, but brought up in conversation (13)
as to whether it constituted a form of curatorial practice, is the case of the
RTMark Mutual Fund System (14). Designed as a clearinghouse for the
brainstorming and dissemination of corporate subversion projects and the
subsequent pairing with funding and labor, this net.artwork of sorts is
considered by its creators more of a fulfillment of the potential for
organizing social activism on the net. The system acts as a database
organizer, categorizing new ‘products’ after their submission to the site, at
which time there is the dissemination and promotion of said projects in the
mass media. If you consider the decentralized executive administrative
functions of the RTMark group proper in relation to the organizational function
of the projects, sponsors, and workers, one could posit that there exists a
sort of dynamic curatorial model within the system. However, the concept does
not quite fit the idea of curation as the screening of projects is not
necessarily art related in scope. In addition, RTMark does not necessarily
seek to exhibit a body or work within an art context, but to promote actions of
civil intervention in the mass media. Although RTMark in itself is not a
curatorial model, it presents structural possibilities for potential
exhibitions in the future.


The projects mentioned to this point have been either exhibited models that
were closely related to traditional models of extant curatorial practice, or
those which radically depart from same, and at this time have only explored
polar opposites of our discussion. To consider the range of possibilities in
the rethinking of curatorial practice, I would like to offer two of my
exhibitions, as well as works by independents like Anne-Marie Schleiner.
Although my experiments in collaborative curation have been fairly
traditionalist in form, each has diverged progressively with each iteration,
and frequently by accident. This arc of experimentation began with the 1999
Through the Looking Glass show in Cleveland, Ohio (15) to the current
(Re)distributions (16) show, which is in its ‘active’ phase until February 1,
2002. Earlier projects are not of interest here, as they were purely
traditionalist events that operated solely under the usual call and response
model of juried exhibitions.

Through the Looking Glass was held near Cleveland, Ohio, and lasted one year
after on the Internet. The exhibition began as a ordinary print exhibition
between myself and Northeast Ohio digital artist Jerry Domokur at the Beachwood
Center for the Arts. In early conversation with the center’s directors while
organizing the event, an interest for a broader project was expressed so that
the Cleveland area could be introduced emergent forms of electronic art,
including At that time, Domokur and I decided that this would be an
excellent opportunity, which was a chance to shape a traditional show of
digital art into one more representative of contemporary practice through
rather the net-topian ideals of using communications technology as a tool for
synergy between artists.

The project, as in the case of many that incorporate Internet strategies in
their construction, evolved greatly from conceptualization to execution. There
is little to say of the initial stages of planning of the event; there was only
enough funding to handle the rental of computer and projection equipment. And
in a rather ordinary fashion, a standard call for works went out on the
Internet. But by the end of the initial planning stages, an interesting
pattern had emerged. Apart from the invited artists, such as Bookchin, Cheang,
Verostko, Rees, and the nearly 300 works garnered from the raw call, some of
the artists began entering in a round table curatorial discussion. Most
notable of these were textile artist W Logan Fry and mixed media printmaker
Jerry Domokur who began forwarding information on numerous works from around
the world. In addition, Machiko Kusahara made recommendations from the Digital
Image group in Japan, which resulted in the acceptance of about ten or so works
>from that group, which broadened the Asian involvement in the show immensely.
During its development, the event had taken on a ‘cellular’ curatorial model in
which various individuals working under the central premise of the exhibition
worked semi-autonomously to assemble works for the exhibition. The result was a
survey of over eighty artists and scholars’ works describing the state of
technological arts highlighting material created on every continent of the
globe, including Antarctica.

Although the loosened curatorial model (which was never made explicit) worked
well, the actual shape of the body of works left something to be desired. In
casual conversation with Dietz of the Walker, a common concern for the nature
of the show as survey was made manifest. The fact that the exhibition was
designed as an introduction for the people of Cleveland to new genres, as well
as challenging of institutional boundaries through internet-based independent
curatorial practices, one problem remained. TTLG served its pedagogical
function, but did not address any central genre, which was becoming more
important as surveys of work were about to become more widespread. The next
experiment in curation was to center on the nascent genres of PDA and
Information Appliance art, to take place in Q3 2001

As opposed to the emergent nature of the curatorial format that revealed itself
with the TTLG show, the PDA/IA show, entitled (re)distributions was to embody
the first real conscious departure from the traditional curatorial process.
Instead of the usual invitation/call/response model, the plan for acceptance
accounted for the very early stage of development for most of the pieces, and
did not have a cutoff date, but a date when works would begin acceptance. From
that date, works would be judged on various metrics until the final cutoff
date, two weeks before the end of the exhibition. In reflection after the
beginning of the exhibition, the reality was that works that showed technical
virtuosity while showing conceptual engagement with the subject were selected.

The result of this model was mixed. Because of technical issues, some artists
asked for my collaboration in creating their work, as they believed that I was
creating work on these platforms at an advanced level. In general, this level
of expertise was no better than theirs, and the obvious breach of ethics was
problematic at best. Suffice it to say that all such requests were politely
refused. The next oddity that arose from this model was the fact that as the
time for the exhibition to begin, almost no one had actually decided to finish
his or her work or essay. If this effect had not been corrected, upon opening
the gallery would be empty in the absence of a concrete deadline. At the time
of this writing, the iterative curatorial process has continued with only one
or two updates, primarily due to delays caused by the cultural effects
resulting from the WTC explosions on 9/11/2001, but is planned to continue the
full six-month process. An accretion of works that built on extant works in
the exhibition has been presented, but conversely, the logistical support
required for the event is higher than that for more traditional models. This
is due to the frequent updates to the site as well as ongoing review of works.
From this experience, this process, while viable, is not recommended for
smaller staffs.

Snow Blossom House

Anne-Marie Schliener’s June 2001 Snow Blossom House (17), was an online show
dedicated to the exploration of erotic themes as depicted in American and
Japanese electronic media through games, popular dress-up programs, and other
media. In her words, SBH is a “hybrid with traditional curatorial models’ in
that it combines those accepted selection methods with the informal practice of
‘collecting links’, access to downloads and the submission of informal reviews
(18). The exhibition is therefore reflective of both previously extant
museological practice translated to the Web, combined with the Do-It-Yourself
(DIY) aesthetic of the personal website. The merging of conventional methods
with commonly used web authoring practices shows the influence of the personal
website as curatorial practice, as on the web, ‘everyone can be a curator’, to
paraphrase Schleiner. While the author’s and Schleiner’s projects incorporate
experiments in time, compilation and collective curation, there is still a
centralized sense of curatorial vision within these projects and the resultant
fetishization of the body of data as objet d’art. However, the experiments in
modifying the traditional curatorial process have resulted in viable
exhibitions, and may be seen as having the potential for further

The Internet has caused a proliferation of exhibition opportunities for artists
working in the electronic genres, and through the early vision of the Internet
as a collaborative workspace, the possibility that there would be varying
degrees of collaboration in technological art curation seems evident. However,
the issues of any body of work’s legitimacy that are overlaid upon any online
show that does not use traditional curatorial models through the power
structures that are associated with traditionalist museological practice create
varying levels of opportunity for that legitimacy. Much of the ascription of
acceptance on the larger culture in regards to online shows often relates to
the media savvy of the curator/organizer and the ability to address the mass
media aspects of the online world. In addition, a certain amount audience
targeting in order to attempt at engaging with the potential audience through a
certain amount of thematic/topical focus is also important for a larger
acceptance for a body of works. These aspects of online curatorial practice,
both traditional and experimental, are intertwined with any attempt at creating
any novel form of gallery practice.

As experimentation continues, the difference between collaborative art,
database collection/visualization, communal activity, and more traditional
curatorial practices often becomes slim. As various artists and practitioners
attempt to create focal points for the exposition of creative processes, these
genres will likely intertwine in inseparable, yet discernable ways, such as
Idealine’s method of database-driven curation. There will also undoubtedly be
more independent offerings that incorpoate experimental methods, such as
Schleiner’s and my own work, as well as process-driven projects such as Merging
Identity and sito. One of the key questions in regards to these future
aesthetic engagements will be the context in which they are seen by the larger
art world as to their legitimation and perceived mode of representation (work,
exhibition, database, etc).

As institutions like the Whitney, Walker, Guggenheim, and so on continue their
investiture into the online and hybrid worlds, their increased participation
will reinscribe the agendas of traditionalist curatorial and museological
practices into genres such as This will create certain challenges for
the non-traditional curator, but will also not prevent the further exploration
of atypical curatorial practices from taking place. The development of
independent curatorial practice in light of the emergent digital communications
environment will undoubtedly create an experimental compliment that traditional
institutions are bound to adopt in part, if the emergence of various
independent curation models (such as collaborative ones discussed herein)
become more widespread. The bottom line is that since larger institutions are
adopting new curatorial (though more traditionalist) models for the acquisition
of technological art, the relationship between artist and curator will be bound
to vary. It will be interesting to observe what shape that variance will take,
and how it reflects the nature of the online society.

1: In the early 1990’s I had a conversation with my mother (who exhibited in
many of these shows) that related a comment that I asked about who ‘got to
pick’ the art in the exhibition.
2: Zolberg, Rena "An Elite Experience for Everyone": Art Museums, the Public,
and Cultural Literacy” From Museum Culture, ed. I. Rogoff Univ of Minnesota
Press, Minneapolis, USA, 1994
3: All names of prominent political or industrial families it is exceedingly
rare for an endowed institution to be named otherwise in the US.
4: Although there are no concrete references to this term, I attribute it to
informal conversations with Simon Biggs on in the late 1990’s
5: This is made evident through sites like, as well as the many
online storage sites, online clubs with media gallery provisions, and so forth.
6:Shock of the View, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN USA September 1998-
March 1999
7: Entertain-Art-Technology listserv. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN USA
8: Although it is unknown to me whether in fact enrollment in open lists like has increased over time.
9: Art Entertainment Network, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN USA
10: Michell. Bonnie. Merging Identity: An exploration of identity, the body,
and life online
11: Stastny, Ed.
12: Wattenberg, Martin. Idealine, commission Whitney Museum of American Art,
New York, New York
13: At SJSU CADRE Institute graduate discussion, Oct. 30, 2001, San Jose, CA,
14: RTMark Mustual Fund System :
15: Through the Looking Glass: Technological Art and Creativity at the Turn of
the Millennium, April, 1999 Beachwood Center for the Arts, Beachwood, OH,
16: (re)distributions: PDA and Information Appliance Art as Cultural
Intervention -
17 Schleiner, Anne Marie, Snow Blossom House (No longer online)

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