📚 Book: Curationism

Author: David Balzer
Via: Pascale Arpin
Read: Aug 2019

Notes from book:

  • Everything we do is an act of curation
  • Museums started with a sample of one of everything, but had to reinvent themselves. The avant-garde was opposing and reinventing, and we are now in a chase for the new and the different.
  • The avant-garde contemporary art leading, but all the new opposites fall back into the old (e.g. artists opposing institutions art selection make their own exhibit, but then
  • Close ties between politics, economics and arts. The avant-garde pushes and comes back, but the economics force behind it remain the same and continue on.
  • Curators demistifying and remistifying (i.e. opposing and breaking down something, but then rearranging it and showing it as something new.
  • The value of things increases through things being brought together. Curation suggests a higher value of the objects at hand, creating impression of glamour around the products. Now everyone can curate, so institutions hire well-known people acting as curators to raise the value, while the professional curator is increasingly overlooked.
  • Digital space being plenty, we collect and keep everything and anything. This “curation” leaves a lot of stuff that’s worth very little to us. Similarly, the “do what you love” mentality reduces the value of the jobs it tries to uphold.
  • The work vs the value: the recognition of work of imparting value, in itself a capitalist imperative (99)
  • De-skilling and re-skilling. There was the push to de-skill art (i.e. requiring no work, like Duchamp’s Fountain, a urinal with a signed pseudonym), democratizing arts and who can make art. Deskilling in economics is the opposite, where workers are replaced with machines. (98-99) The same pattern is seen with curation now, where technology is making the curator obsolete (e.g. users curating themselves art, or their home interior selections), relegated to project management tasks.
  • Curation as a lifestyle, people seeking the “CEO” life of a curator, imparting value but doing no work, while the reality of work of most curators is the very opposite, dry and overworked. Programs in curation are offered, but only push the entry requirements hire (more education required before internships, and more people willing to do internships for free… which makes it accessible only to people who can afford it). The star curators are from an unskilled old generation that secured their position before the credentials got formalized and required.
  • In the digital age, everyone curates, even further pushing curation to an unpaid and undervalued activity (e.g. who uploaded that file?). Micromanaging lives to imitate the perfect image of the star curator. Curation is a then a compulsive practice to seek attention.
  • You are more than what you like.
  • Facebook and Google aggregating through people’s choices: more than categories of things, there is meaning between things that the categories can’t elicit.


  • “Today we see it, for instance, in most of our retail experiences, in which we are presented with a total experience, a selection of curated items, the organization of which, main implicitly inspired by Barr’s Useful Objects shows, constituting an amplification of their value, along with that of the brand presenting them. Popular American grocery-store chains Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are obvious examples of the aura of the curated in the everyday, where, merely by walking in the door, you are promised access to certain foods and not to others, as well as to a certain style, which comprises packaging design, store geography and staffer personality. It is not this book’s intention, nor within its scope, to enumerate all expressions of curated auras in the retail world and daily life. Doubtless you are aware they exist (IKEA, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Uniqlo, Uline, the list goes on). Less evident is the work, yours and others, that rationalizes their existence. Value, as regards connoisseurship, selection and promotion, is one thing. Work, the execution and fostering of such value-based visions, is another.” (96)
  • “Anxiety is one of the key drivers of the curatorial impulse in capitalist society and culture — an anxiety to ensure things are valuable and in turn to define them as somehow productive or useful. Søren Kierkegaard famously wrote, ‘[A]nxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself.’ Curation provides this finiteness.” (121)