Limerick, Ireland
EVA 1994, catalogue cover (portrait of Jan Hoet)

Rear View Mirror #2: From Adjudicator to Curator

Rear View Mirror #2 is a text written by Matt Packer, Director / CEO of EVA International (2017 – ), that was originally presented as part of the conference, ‘Re-framing the 90s’, that took place at University College Cork, on the 2 / 3 November 2018 (click here for further information). The text is the second published text from the Rear View Mirror series, an ongoing research project that aims to explore and unpack EVA’s history since 1977.  

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This text explores the emergence of the curator and curatorial identity through specific examples from EVA’s history through the 80s and 90s. These are decades that can be seen as a bridge between the volunteerist roots of the organisation in the late 70s through to its entry into the global family of international biennials in recent years.

The history of EVA can be traced back to 1977, when a committee of Limerick artists put together an annual exhibition initiative that would “provide the public with an opportunity to visit and experience an exhibition not normally available in the region and […] stimulate an awareness of the visual arts here [Limerick]”. [1]

It was the appointment of international art professionals that would become the primary strategy of achieving these stated aims, when, in 1979 – the same year that the identity of Exhibition of Visual Art (EVA) became established – the committee invited Sandy Nairne as Adjudicator for the exhibition, kick-starting an approach that would continue for the next 40 years. Sandy Nairne was invited to review artworks submitted through an Open Call process; his task was to judge (‘adjudicate’) artworks, and then to distribute prizes to those works within their selections in categories of painting, sculpture, and graphics. In subsequent years, the invitation to adjudicate the annual Open Call EVA exhibition was extended to other prominent art professionals, including: Brian O’Doherty, Pierre Restany, Liesbeth Brandt Corstius, Peter Fuller, Rudi Fuchs, and Ida Panicelli, among others.

The title choice of ‘Adjudicator’ given to these appointees (a title used from 1979 to 1999) is significant and unsurprising given the prize-giving nature of EVA at that time. The title Adjudicator, a word obviously rooted in the act of passing judgement, implied the way that international art professionals would be required to ‘perform’ their expertise: essentially, as a personal selection of artworks through a process of criteria that was for each Adjudicator to define for themselves.

One of the obvious implications of the Open Call approach in the early period was that it prioritised painting, sculpture and works that could be deposited for the fleeting judgement of the Adjudicator. The second obvious implication was the limited scope of judgement. The background of the artist, the conditions of the artwork’s production, the intended context of the artwork’s presentation – all of this had little possibility to register in the selection process. This, in turn, reinforced a selection of work that was based on abstract gestural styles or else works that were formally and figuratively didactic enough to make an obvious address to a thematic or art historical or social-political concern.

One of the sub-narratives to emerge in the early editions of EVA through the late 70s and 80s is the expressed anxiety and apprehension of the Adjudicator when faced with this invitation to judge works by artists who they don’t know in a regional and national context they were often not familiar with. In his text for the EVA 1985 catalogue, Rudi Fuchs wrote that ‘Being a judge is not an enjoyable position. It is awkward to be called in like the Medieval judge who comes, passes verdict, and goes off again.’ [2]  The previous year, Adjudicator Peter Fuller described something similar:  ‘I must admit that when I arrived at Shannon Airport, I felt vulnerable. Ireland simply seemed so far away from those theatres of aesthetic struggle with which I was familiar. This feeling was accentuated when I was whisked into those bleak store-rooms in Parnell Street where all the works were gathered together for my adjudication. I was immediately aware of the insufferable arrogance of what I was doing. l had come to Limerick with nothing to declare except my judgement! I felt exposed’. [3] As a British art critic, acknowledging Ireland’s absence from the ‘theatre’ of the so-called art world, during a time of strained Anglo-Irish political relations, that exposure was perhaps the double exposure of postcolonial self-awareness.

What also emerges in these and other examples, through texts in the EVA catalogues from this same period, is the emphasis on the personal and subjective aspects of adjudication. Indeed, many of the Adjudicators used the accompanying catalogue to write a personal story of their experience in Limerick or a first-person account of their selection process. These are the opening lines of Liesbeth Brandt Corstius text in the catalogue of EVA 1982: ‘Sunday Night-first impression: Five hundred works of art stand against the walls of the vast new gymnasium of Thomond College; a number are still being unpacked under cold, artificial light. Monday Morning – second impression: Behind the City Library rooms we find ourselves in the neat, quiet art gallery with it’s three tiny wings, it’s soft and even light that falls through the glass roof. Evidently it will not be able to house more than seventy works. I realise that my work for the next two days will be rejecting over four hundred works of art by Irish Artists. A cruel job-1 am glad not to know any of the artists personally and to be able to fly out of Limerick after having finished it …. I have one wish: that all visitors would have been able to make their own choice from the total amount of works sent in, so as to compare it with mine … At this moment, Wednesday, 15th September, 430 works of art are being repacked without anybody having seen them, except me.’ [4]

Through the 90s, against a background of broader institutional changes internationally, we see these reflexive conditions of appointment become further manifest in the working model and artistic relations of the exhibition itself.

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‘the 1990s brought forth a type considered the mirror of economic neo-liberalism: the young curator’ [Marius Babias and Florian Waldvogel] [5]

It is widely considered that the 1990s was a decade of seismic change in terms of arts institutionalism; in Ireland and elsewhere. In 1991, IMMA opened as Ireland’s first national institution for the presentation and collection of modern and contemporary art. In 1994, Tate announced its expansion plans for what would become Tate Modern.  Through the 90s there was a proliferation of biennials established across the world, with an estimated 40 biennials launching their first edition in that decade, often in contexts with ‘developing economies’, initiated at national or regional government level as a way to ‘expand tourism, improve physical and cultural infrastructure, stimulate foreign investment and promote the work of national and local artists’.[6] The pan-European Manifesta biennial, established in 1994, adopted a pioneerist approach of ‘seeking fresh and fertile terrain for the mapping of a new cultural topography’ [7] following the fall of the Berlin wall and a newly unified Europe. Some examples of other new biennials coming onto the circuit in the 1990s include: Sharjah in 1993, Gwangju and Johannesberg in 1995, Mercosul in 1997, Berlin and Liverpool in 1998. The 1990s was also a decade of curatorial education to both stimulate and satisfy these opportunities, while representing a liberalisation of the education sector itself in terms of these courses being ‘industry-orientated’ and often allied to broader non-academic institutional structures. Whitney’s Curatorial Program established in 1991; The Royal College of Art Curating Programme – originally titled Visual Arts Administration: Curating and Commissioning Contemporary – established in 1992 as a direct initiative of the Arts Council England; Bard College’s Centre for Curatorial Studies and de Appel’s Curatorial Training Programmes established in 1994.

The 90s also witnessed the rise of what would be called ‘the New Institutionalism’, characterised by the attempt to reorganize the structures of mostly medium-sized, publicly funded North European contemporary art institutions, who were seeking to define alternative forms of curatorial, art educational as well as administrative practices. Lucie Kolb & Gabriel Flückiger have described the tenets of New Institutionalism as an ‘institutional practice was not confined to traditional exhibition programs (such as solo exhibitions or thematic shows); the exhibition was also conceived as a social project and operated alongside discursive events, film programs, radio and TV shows, integrated libraries and book shops as well as journals, reading groups, online displays, invitation cards, posters and residencies. The uses of these formats remained adaptable and open to change: production, presentation and reception /criticism were not successive and separate activities; they happened simultaneously and frequently intersected.’ [8]

Economic liberalism, information technology, the promotion of flexible labour relations, and the collapse of European socialism would all contribute to this sense of worldly opportunity and the mobilisation of the curator figure. While it would be untrue to suggest that EVA look a leading role in this groundshift, it was certainly exposed to it through the approach of appointing Adjudicators who were evidently interested in these new models of practice.

EVA’s began the new decade of the 90s with a seemingly modest but significant proposal. The EVA 1990 exhibition, adjudicated by Saskia Bos was the first in EVA’s history to carry a title: ‘Climates of Thought’.  Although the Open Call process was apparently much the same as previous editions, the act of titling placed an emphasis on the identity and narrative proposition of the exhibition itself.

In her catalogue text, Saskia Bos wrote: ‘Climates of Thought is a title that hints at the way I have been thinking about the different rooms and the groupings of individual works within these rooms. Some house passionate large-scale paintings with loaded contents. Others accommodate works that emphasise the poetic or ethereal. Playful contrasts of signs and language systems seem to communicate with each other. A subtly narrative installation has been placed separately to allow it the space to speak for itself.’ [9]

Paul O’Reilly, EVA’s longstanding Administrator also contributed a text to the catalogue that supported this same sense of the exhibition as a conditional environment; more than the sum of individual parts:

‘The title stirs up ideas about how people deal with such an exhibition.
– [It] provides access to ideas that come wrapped in, conditioned by, feelings
– Works of art do this separately and also join together in common ideas and feelings
– The very spaces that EVA 1990 occupies have been hung to establish these patterns of thought and feeling’ [10]

The act of giving EVA 1990 a title was a subtle emphasis of the Adjudicator’s agency in creatively bridging relations between artworks through a concept that wasn’t exclusively locatable within any one artwork or aesthetic. It also emphasised new possibilities to mediate artworks to a public audience.

The 1991 edition of EVA was Adjudicated by Germano Celant, who at the time was working as Curator of Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and already famous within international art circles for his work with Arte Povera. Celant added a further assertion of the exhibition as an object of authorship, over and above the assembly of individual works and the process of selection. His text in the accompanying catalogue – which was curiously printed in his native Italian, followed by an English translation – contained his ambition for EVA 1991 to not only be ‘a manifestation identified in the power of the choice …’ but would also ‘appear as an Exhibition, curated by him’ [11] (referring to himself, of course).

Celant was openly critical of a number of things related to his invitation, the restrictive limits of the Open Call selection process, and the lack of adequate infrastructure to realise the exhibition to its fullest potential as he saw it. He described how he received the invitation by the EVA committee by unsolicited fax; how he admired the invitation for being ‘very naive’, making the point that he typically says no to these kinds of invitations; how he regarded his decision to accept as a ‘political gesture’ in favour of a poor country in Europe, rather than an opportunity that would necessarily advantage his profile or curatorial philosophy.

Celant used the format of prize-giving to redistribute funds for the conservation of an 18th century painting by Richard Carver in Limerick City Gallery of Art collection, which he found to be in a state of disappointing care and requiring urgent conservation; offering the remainder of the prize-funds to each and every of the selected artists in the exhibition. When asked about this approach, he complained: ‘art is not a running competition for a record. I think that’s ridiculous. If they are serious workers, they all need the same recognition. Naturally, the first prize goes to history, the other share it.’ [12]

Celant also had issue with the lack of space that was made available to him (EVA was limited to the Limerick City Gallery of Art at the time), writing that ‘the artist’s work has to be able to breathe, otherwise the exhibition is an assemblage, what they call the rat box, the works kill each other … If I had had the whole city at my disposal, I would have selected more work.’ [13]

This was evidently taken on as feedback by the EVA committee in the subsequent editions. The 1992 edition of EVA expanded out to two further venues at the Limerick Civic Offices and Slattery’s Pub. Another year later again – still reverberating from Celant’s criticisms – EVA extended across 8 venues. In the Chairman’s introduction to the 1993 catalogue, Hugh Murray wrote that Celant ‘shook our [EVA’s] complacency by saying that we had wasted his time. In his view, if we had given him the whole city as his venue and enhanced our source of art and artists, his time and abilities would have been used to far better effect.’ [14]

There is a significance in this episode of EVA’s history beyond Celant’s authorial gesturing of the exhibition and his broader criticisms. The episode demonstrated the power of the appointed Adjudicator to challenge and revise some of the key organisational functions of EVA that went way beyond the invited task of selecting work for the exhibition. It was a situation that was perhaps symptomatic of the newly empowered agents of the 90s biennial boom and a liberalised international arts infrastructure. From the 90s onwards, EVA’s relationship with Adjudicators became a kind of capacity building exercise for the organisation in general – with many subsequent Adjudicators assuming a greater scope of curatorial control and programme initiation.

The 1994 edition of EVA was Adjudicated by Jan Hoet, who was approached two years previously by representatives from the EVA committee shortly after giving a public address during the Documenta exhibition that he was curating that year. He accepted the invitation there and then. EVA 1994 brought about a significant change that would re-define the basic structure of the artist selection for the next 25 years that followed. In addition to the Open Call submission (which was rebranded Open EVA), a new channel of programme was introduced that effectively allowed Adjudicators to invite international artists to present works and develop projects, without these artists going through the formal process of submission.

This new channel of programme was called Invited EVA. It had the direct result of introducing to Limerick a number of works and practises of significant international artists such as Dan Graham, Luc Deleu, and Anne Veronica Janssens, who presented works alongside the regular channel of Irish artists who had submitted their work through the Open Call call process. Many of the works by the Invited EVA artists were presented in public spaces across the city.

The new Invited EVA programme was not without its concerns, which Paul O’Reilly described in the retrospective compendium catalogue: ‘Serious consideration was given to a potential risk an invited section could offer to the Open EVA exhibition, whose artists might suffer disadvantage when put in close comparison with highly profiled, internationally known artists. It also meant accepting greater professional and financial responsibilities.’ [15]

Although the introduction of EVA did effectively introduce a two-tier approach that would continue to face criticism in subsequent editions, it did positively challenge Irish artists to see themselves in international relation to other artists and discourses. In an interview that featured in the small accompanying catalogue produced for the EVA 1994, Hoet describes: ‘The Invited section gives an extension to the importance of EVA. Because you create an eventful dialogue between the artists themselves and the artists coming from abroad … It is not enough to be Irish, you have to make something from this Irish confidence and Irish roots. You have to make something in order to say something in the world. If you don’t have something to say to the world, then you are only Irish, and that is not enough.’ [16]

During the same interview, Hoet interestingly uses the notion of the ‘storm centre’, which he describes in response to a question about art programming beyond the walls of the museum at a time when IMMA was then established, in its infancy. Hoet says: ‘You need storm centres. You have a museum now. A good museum doesn’t exist without a storm centre …’  [17]. This notion of ‘storm centre’ is given no further explanation, but it suggests the necessity of a counterpart institutional infrastructure that was more informal and unpredictable and responsive and future facing; in many ways, in line with the core principles of the New Institutionalism described previously as a key marker of the decade. Hoet would go on to curate a exhibition titled ‘Storm Centers’ together with Ann Demeester across multiple-venues in Belgium in 2000.

The Invited EVA programme initiative took place in alternate years until 2010, effectively anticipating the biennial model that would later arrive in 2012.  Many of the editions that included the Invited EVA programme from 1994 onwards were marked by a greater concentration of works presented in public spaces and within the fabric of Limerick city itself, allowing the artwork a more situated address of social and political issues that extended locally and internationally. It also, of course, meant a new potential to engage public audiences – through staged or incidental encounters or direct social participation. A particular Invited EVA example from 1994 is Jessica Diamond’s outdoor installation, Distinguishing between letting go and not caring, a billboard fixed to the side of Dunnes Stores in Limerick city centre, the words ‘not caring / letting go’ splitting the two halves of the work, presenting a statement that read as a paradox of consumerist emancipation within the context of the supermarket onto which it was situated.  Further Invited EVA examples include Felix Gonzales-Torres’s work Untitled (America) – an installation of electric lights that draped across the traffic of O’Connell Street in Limerick city centre – that was presented as part of the 1996 edition adjudicated by Guy Tortosa. Like the illumination of a coast line seen from afar, each fragile line of light couldn’t help be read in terms of Ireland’s American horizon for a better and more hopeful world.  That same year, Invited Isreali artist Uri Tzaig produced a performance work with two local basketball teams, instructing a normal game of basketball but with two balls in play.

Invited EVA was not simply about the introduction of experienced international artists into the local mix, and indeed there were a number of Irish artists who were Invited through this process. More crucially, it changed the nature of the relationship between the Adjudicator, the artist, and the context of Limerick. Strictly speaking, the Adjudicator was not adjudicating at all when it came to the Invited EVA programme. What had once been limited to the yes or no binary judgement of the Open Call process, was now a process of discussion and conversation and collaborative site-responsiveness to Limerick city and its publics. This was of course part of a larger institutional change, that is summed up by Terry Smith’s definition of contemporary curating as … ‘a platform for artists’ ideas and interests … responsive to the situation in which it occurs …’ where the role of the curator shifts ‘from a governing position that presides over taste and ideas to one that lies amongst art (or objects), space, and audience.’ [18]

In the best-case model of EVA in the 1990s, the changed structure of relationship led to the empowerment of artists to think and work differently within the embedded social context of Limerick, while also empowering publics to see themselves as co-producing participants in these projects. A more critical approach would suggest that the changed structure led to the further marginalisation of Irish artists, while privileging certain kinds of site-responsive artists and thematic approaches that were becoming increasingly and seamlessly transposed from one international opportunity to another. What is clear, however, is that the figure of the curator became crucial to this new development. Their task was not only to perform a selection of works, but to perform an entire exhibition orchestration across a number of artistic, situational, and public axis.

In the 2000 edition of EVA curated by Rosa Martinez – a year that included both Invited and Open processes of artistic selection, the title-description of Adjudicator was dropped and replaced with the title-description of Curator without much of a mention. It seemed that the emergence of curatorship had become complete in the words of EVA Administrator Paul O’Reilly, printed in the afterword to that year’s catalogue:

‘Every artist, every artist’s theory and practice of art, comes under the influence of curation. Every work of art, sooner or later set loose in the world, comes under the influence of curation … All audiences are subject to the activity of curation.’ [19]

 

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  1. Introduction, EVA 1977 catalogue
  2. Rudi Fuchs, EVA 1985 catalogue
  3. Peter Fuller, EVA 1984 catalogue
  4. Liesbeth Brandt Corstius, EVA 1982 catalogue
  5. Marius Babias and Florian Waldvogel, Men in black : handbook of curatorial practice / Christoph Tannert, Ute Tischler, eds., Revolver, 2004
  6. Bruce Altshuler, Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions That Made Art History: 1962-2002, Phaidon, 2013
  7. Manifesta, website: https://manifesta.org/biennials/about-the-biennials/
  8. Lucie Kolb, Gabriel Flückiger, New Institutionalism Revisited, On Curating, Issue21, January 2014
  9. Saskia Bos, Climates of Thought / EVA 1990 catalogue
  10. Paul O’Reilly, Climates of Thought / EVA 1990 catalogue
  11. Germano Celant, EVA 1991 catalogue
  12. Germano Celant, in conversation with Paddy Woodworth, EVA 1991 catalogue
  13. Germano Celant, in conversation with Paddy Woodworth, EVA 1991 catalogue
  14. Hugh Murray, EVA 1993 catalogue
  15. Paul O’Reilly, EVA Compendium 1994 – 1998
  16. Jan Hoet, EVA 1994 catalogue
  17. Jan Hoet, EVA 1994 catalogue
  18. Terry Smith, Thinking Contemporary Curating, 2012
  19. Paul O’Reilly, Friends & Neighbours / EVA 2000 catalogue

 

 

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