Hans Ulrich Obrist Slams ‘Fly-In, Fly-Out Curating’

Obrist and Yoko Ono. (Courtesy Getty Images)

Over in the Financial Times, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, has a short article in which he urges curators “to shape exhibitions as long-duration projects and to consider issues of sustainability and legacy.” He sets up as a choice example a performance of John Cage’s 1987 ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible) piece currently underway in Halberstadt, Germany, which is scheduled to last for 639 years. (It started Sept. 5, 2001.)

From the piece:

Fly-in, fly-out curating nearly always produces superficial results; it’s a practice that goes hand in hand with the fashion for applying the word “curating” to everything that involves simply making a choice – radio playlists, hotel decor, even the food stalls in New York’s High Line Park. Making art is not the matter of a moment, and nor is making an exhibition; curating follows art.

Which is ironic since Mr. Obrist has been accused of indulging in this sort of “fly-in, fly-out curating” in the past. (For his part, he writes, “For me the making of exhibitions has always had to do with dialogue: a concentrated, in-depth, focused dialogue with artists, who keep teaching me that exhibitions should always invent new rules for the game.”)

Regardless, it’s hard to argue with his point. The remarkable homogeneity across the upper tier of the art world—the fact that works by the same hundred or so artists alight at the top art fairs every year and regularly fill shows at many international contemporary art museums—is deadening for the entire art culture. We need exhibitions with less mailed-in components, more long-term engagement from curators and artists, and a greater variety of participants.

“Fly-in, fly-out curating” thrives, of course, because it’s relatively cheap and easy for institutions: hire a star curator, have him or her call his regular artist collaborators and throw together a show. The alternative requires a commitment of financial resources—for curators to conduct lengthy and sustained dialogues with a wide range of artists, and for artists to develop considered responses to exhibitions and their sites—as well as an openness to risk, a willingness to try out experimental models and untested names, and then live with those choices for a while. This year’s Documenta felt like an example of just that sort of commitment. Here’s hoping more follow. Hans Ulrich Obrist Slams ‘Fly-In, Fly-Out Curating’