Book Review – Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media


Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media, by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook. Foreword by Steve Dietz (available at amazon UK and USA)

Publisher The MIT Press says: As curator Steve Dietz has observed, new media art is like contemporary art–but different. New media art involves interactivity, networks, and computation and is often about process rather than objects. New media artworks, difficult to classify according to the traditional art museum categories determined by medium, geography, and chronology. These works present the curator with novel challenges involving interpretation, exhibition, and dissemination. This book views these challenges as opportunities to rethink curatorial practice. It helps curators of new media art develop a set of flexible tools for working in this fast-moving field, and it offers useful lessons from curators and artists for those working in such other areas of art as distributive and participatory systems.

Rethinking Curating explores the characteristics distinctive to new media art, including its immateriality and its questioning of time and space, and relates them to such contemporary art forms as video art, conceptual art, socially engaged art, and performance art. The authors, both of whom have extensive experience as curators, offer numerous examples of artworks and exhibitions to illustrate how the roles of curators and audiences can be redefined in light of new media art’s characteristics. They discuss modes of curating, from the familiar default mode of the museum, through parallels with publishing, broadcasting, festivals, and labs, to more recent hybrid ways of working online and off, including collaboration and social networking. Rethinking Curating offers curators a route through the hype around platforms and autonomous zones by following the lead of current artists’ practice.


Vuk Cosic, Documenta X, part of the exhibition Net-art per me at the Slovenian Pavilion of the Venice Biennial, 2001. Image

In 2000, Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook founded CRUMB, a discussion list that aims to help those who ‘exhibit’ new media art, whether they are curators, technicians or artists. They also collaborate to international publications, curate exhibitions and organise workshops, masterclasses and conferences for the discussion of new media art curating. I can’t think of many people as capable as these two to dispel the myths and prejudices that cloud our vision of new media art and the way it should not only be integrated into a curatorial practice but also question it.

The first half of the book identifies the characteristics inherent to new media art and maps how the practice crosses traditional borders of space, media, time, taxonomy and disciplines and how it is thus related to other art forms or movements more familiar to visitors and directors of contemporary art venues: conceptual art, video art, socially engaged practices, etc. The second half investigates in depth modes and ways of curating new media art both inside and outside institutions.


Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, Steam Powered Internet Computer, 2006

As if that were not enough, the authors also have a mission: to convince us that new media art offers the art world the opportunity to completely re-position curatorial practice. New media art comes with challenges, idiosyncrasies, but also with a propensity to collaborate and share, to look for alternative curatorial spaces, to mix disciplines, media and knowledge… Surely, this should provide enough reasons for the contemporary art world to take notice and get inspired.

Although the title clearly positions the book as one that people directly involved in curatorial practice should read, the questions raised in Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media should be relevant to other practices. They range from “What is new media art?” and its side-kick “but is this art?” to “How much technical knowledge does a new media art curator needs?” “Why would new media artists want to show their work in an art museum?” “What can we learn from artist-led and collaborative modes of working?” “Does new media art have to fear institutionalization?” “What happens when there is no curator, when it is the artist or even the audience who curates an exhibition?”, etc. The issues investigated by Cook and Graham are so wide-ranging that curators and new media artists of course but also directors of art centers and art critics should find this book stimulating and pertinent to their interests. Otherwise chances are that this call to re-think curating will fall on deaf ears.

I’d like to end this short review of the book by thanking the authors for regularly quoting the wittiest characters of the new media art world: Steve Dietz and Vuk Ćosić. I think it’s time we lock these two in a room for 24 hours and document everything that comes out of their brain that day.

Related stories: Book Review – A Brief History of Curating New Media Art: Conversations with Curators and Interview with Sarah Cook.
Book review – Media, New Media, Postmedia.

Image on the homepage: credit: 2010 Ryota Kuwakubo, photo: KIOKU Keizo, photo courtesy: NTT Inter Communication Center (ICC), Found on ars electronica’s flickr set.