The LAW or The art of making exhibitions

Paolo Bianchi

Curating is characterized, among other things, by plainness, modesty and the pleasure of dilettantism.


  1. archaic
  2. lacking ornament
  3. free of extraneous matter
  4. free of impediments to view
  5. a (1): evident to the mind or senses (2) b: marked by outspoken candor: free from duplicity or subtlety
  6. a: belonging to the great mass of humans b: lacking special distinction or affectation
  7. characterized by simplicity: not complicated
  8. lacking beauty or ugliness



  1. freedom from conceit or vanity
  2. propriety in dress, speech, or conduct modesty: 1531, "freedom from exaggeration, self-control," from M.Fr. modestie, from L. modestia "moderation," from modestus "moderate, keeping measure, sober," from modus "measure, manner" (see mode (1)). Meaning "having a moderate opinion of oneself" is from 1553. Modest (adj.) is first recorded 1565.



etymology: Italian, from present participle of dilettare to delight, from Latin dilectare

  1. an admirer or lover of the arts
  2. a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge

The openness of an exhibition supports the principle of dialogue: every interpretation can itself be subjected to interpretation, so that the viewing eye takes part in the genesis of curatorial statements.

This is precisely the way independent curators operate: in their work, art and culture are reborn from the spirit of anarchy (4).

[anarchy: in his futuristic novel, We (1924), Evgenii Zamiatin portrays a model state where the citizens are untroubled by need or by serious thought. The concrete 'I' is replaced by the abstract 'We' of the state in the hope that eternal happiness for all human beings will ensue - that is to say, an objective happiness imposed from above, because in the search for subjective happiness there are also the seeds of insurrection and mutiny. Anyone in Zamiatin's state who is “taken ill” with individualism is cured with x-rays so that they can re-join the conformist masses. Can a utopia that combines individual goals and the common good actually exist?

The Basel philosopher Hans Saner has a view on this: “It would also be conceivable that a utopia could be anarchic, i.e., that a group of people chooses an 'order' that works without laws. The interests of the group would be served by not recognising institutional force of any kind. This would be the framework for an 'order' within which the free orders of the different individuals would be embedded. The resulting 'network' of orders would be like a patchwork where each person sews in their own patch. This could only function if there were guaranteed that all actions adhered to the underlying principle, that is to say, if solidarity were automatically intrinsic to any action. Only if it were automatic would it be unnecessary to have it laid down by law. A group of this kind would be a true community in which individual goals would also serve the common good. Anarchy is the highest order.” (see Kunstforum International, vol. 143/1999)]

Independent curators have an appealing equal respect for high and low culture as a crossover.

[crossover: contemporary art today has its sights set on the 'in between': the interstices, the signage and the junctures where things happen and cross over. The joint progeny of different genres or the convergence of the arts is the new hype: everyone's doing it, although not everyone can. The interplay of the intensities pays no heed to the cult of purity. The autochtonous and the Western are amalgamated. Impossible syntheses are a betrayal of dissidence. There are no solos for us to applaud, just one combined sound. Crossovers involve interaction with others; things change in the process and once back on their own home ground, it turns out that a person's behaviour has changed. Crossovers don't change a person's art praxis, but they do cast existing praxis in a new light.]

But their stance also says: us and the others - both, and both at the same time. And not: the two are the same.

For culture(s), the following formulas apply:

The position of the independent curators is opposition, and their will to make things happen takes the form of an aesthetic of resistance.

They are team leaders and team players (6).

[team: teamwork in art carves out its own paths towards the open territory of poly-stylistics. Of course it is never simply a matter of this or that. What we are talking about here is the post-modern postulate of the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous - albeit not just as a montage of citations (from one's own and others' work), but beyond this as a juxtaposition of the diverse aesthetic languages that draw on similar sources and that use similar modes of expression. In the best case scenario, art as teamwork is discursive confrontation. Art as teamwork also marks the beginning of the critique of the absolute: the beginning of freedom. A team work is a precarious, complex, double or triple being. Phantasms, desires, obsessions and longings gnaw away at it like rats: a drama both beautiful and pitiful.]

The art of making exhibitions succeeds when dialogue, teamwork and networking all interlock.

The trend is towards switching abruptly between subversion and attraction, between avant-garde and entertainment, between multi/sub-culture and mainstream, between the periphery and the centre, between ivory towers and militancy.

The independent curator is a rebel, an exile, a dissident.

A good exhibition is capable of rewriting the world. It generates not a linear view of history, but a poetics of remembering as a way of experiencing the past as something present - as retrovision, as a glance in the rear-view mirror while driving through the jungle of life.

The retrovisionary viewpoint of the exhibition-maker causes the reflections to dance: It is wrong to project oneself onto everything one encounters and to adjust everything to one's own self-image. Retrovision, on the contrary, means exploring, understanding and appreciating other things, other ideas and other people.

The world is a puzzle. For curators too, this is a source of inspiration. Which is why, in my double life as a publicist and a curator, I always describe phenomena as the aesthetics of existence, as the art of life and as the sphere of life, alias lifescape, alias Lebenskunstwerk (7).

[Lebenskunstwerk LKW - Life Art Work LAW: Life Art Work (LAW) disappoints our longing for the ultimate, proper, coherent Gesamtkunstwerk. This dream will never come true because LAW is part of reality and even if we took 'LAW' to mean 'Lorries at Work' - knowing that the German abbreviation Lkw means Lastkraftwagen which means 'lorry' our thoughts might already be rolling in that direction - lorries transporting large quantities of whatever, it would still be only too clear that the totality of things will fall by the wayside. LAW - of whatever kind - is neither a contradiction-free entity nor a harmonious mosaic. It is only ever a conglomeration, a mixture, a pattern of different pieces - a collectively owned box of building bricks for an aesthetic of living.]

This approach bears the stamp of an independent, self-willed form of project work. I accept chaos as normal. I give an idea of what «holds the world together deep inside» and where the amazement of artists leads.

There is no point looking for the thread. What counts are the deviations, echoes and resonances.