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By Hans Ulrich Obrist, Anne D'Harnoncourt, Werner Hoffman, Jean Leering, Franz Meyer, Seth Siegelaub, Walter Zanini, Johannes Cladders, Lucy Lippard, Walter Hopps, Pontus Hulten, Harald Szeemann, Daniel Birnbaum

A part of JRP|Ringer's leading edge Documents sequence, released with Les Presses du Reel and devoted to severe writings, this booklet contains a special selection of interviews by means of Hans Ulrich Obrist mapping the advance of the curatorial field--from early self sustaining curators within the Sixties and 70s and the experimental institutional courses built in Europe and the U.S. throughout the inception of Documenta and many of the biennales and fairs--with pioneering curators Anne D'Harnoncourt, Werner Hoffman, Jean Leering, Franz Meyer, Seth Siegelaub, Walter Zanini, Johannes Cladders, Lucy Lippard, Walter Hopps, Pontus Hulten and Harald Szeemann.

Speaking of Szeemann at the social gathering of this mythical curator's loss of life in 2005, critic Aaron Schuster summed up, "the picture we've got of the curator at the present time: the curator-as-artist, a roaming, freelance fashion designer of exhibitions, or in his personal witty formula, a 'spiritual visitor worker'... If artists when you consider that Marcel Duchamp have affirmed choice and association as valid creative thoughts, was once it no longer easily an issue of time earlier than curatorial practice--itself outlined by means of choice and arrangement--would turn out to be obvious as an artwork that operates at the box of artwork itself?"

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PH A group of artists, including Sam Francis and Robert Irwin, wanted to start a contemporary art museum. The artists asked me to come and work with them. I got along very well with them, less well with the patrons; there was very little financial support. The first exhibition, in 1983, was called The First Show, and consisted of paintings and sculptures from 1940–1980, drawn from eight different collections. It was an effort to examine what it meant to collect art. I did a second show called The Automobile and Culture (1984), a survey of the history of cars as objects and images that included 30 actual cars.

His art was shown in the gallery’s bookshop. Gallery bookshops were a way of exhibiting the work of young artists without making a financial commitment. You have to understand how differently galleries operated then. Prestigious spaces usually showed artists with whom they had contracts. HUO Didn’t Alexandre Jolas also run a gallery? PH Yes, a few years later. In his own way, he was much wilder. I couldn’t say whether or not he provided artists with stipends —Denise René’s artists got serious money.

HUO The last Rauschenberg retrospective you curated, in 1976—it must have been one of the first times a contemporary artist made the cover of The New York Times Magazine. WH Yes. HUO This leads to what I call the double-leg theory: an exhibition that is highly regarded by specialists but also makes the cover of Time—in other words, having one leg in a popular field and one in a specialized field. WH Yes, I realized early on I couldn’t live without both fields. It isn’t made quite clear in Calvin Tomkins’ article [in The New Yorker], but early on, when I was at UCLA, I kept this small gallery—Syndell Studio—which was like a very discreet laboratory.

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