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An Introduction to Curatorial and Critical Skills

ENGL 404.640
W 6-8:40

This advanced seminar will teach students to understand contemporary artwork from a critical point of view. The course will then combine critical theory and practice by providing students with the tools to conceptualize, develop and realize their own curatorial practices and aspirations, in the form of exhibitions, events, and publications.

The course will begin with a brief overview engaging some of the theoretical issues involved in discussing, writing about and understanding historic avant-garde and contemporary cultural practices, with a particular focus on artistic movements such as Dada, Abstract Expressionism, Conceptual Art, and Institutional Critique.  Accordingly, students will read work by a range of cultural critics, curators, theoreticians, and artists including Clement Greenberg, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Pierre Bourdieu, Ed Fry, Marcel Duchamp, Sol Le Witt, and Hans Haacke.  In the weeks that follow, the course will then examine more closely the practice and methodology of art criticism and curatorial practice through a series of studio visits with living artists as well as trips to area galleries and museums including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Institute for Contemporary Art, and Slought Foundation.

Finally, the course will engage technologically-mediated contemporary art, such as sophisticated sculptural and new media practices, as well as some of the competing methodologies for archiving and digitizing these new and unusual art objects.

This advanced course is designed to provide a comprehensive introduction to contemporary art and criticism and to prepare students who have curatorial or literary aspirations, as well as to educate those who simply want to become more aware of contemporary art practice. Course requirements include a short writing exercise each week and a final paper.  Familiarity with contemporary art is not required.

The course will meet each week at Slought Foundation, a contemporary arts organization in Philadelphia.  Students are encouraged to attend a series of public programs at the organization over the course of the semester exploring these and related themes, including:

  • A symposium about Joyce, Duchamp and Jarry in the work of pioneering conceptual artist William Anastasi, featuring art critics Thomas McEvilley, Steve McCaffery, and Joseph Masheck;
  • An exhibition by blind African-American artist David Stephens exploring the legal and symbolic ramifications of cross-burnings in the Philadelphia area;
  • The Other Epistemology, an exhibition of seminal conceptual artworks from the 1960s and 1970s by artists such as Braco Dimitrijevic and Klaus Rinke;
  • A conversation with Johanna Drucker exploring avant-garde literary practice;
  • A conversation with Gayatri Spivak and Eduardo Cadava engaging contemporary art and theories about mourning;
  • Sun Ra meets Napoleon: Fragments of the Alter-Future, an archival intervention that juxtaposes historical materials pertaining to ancient Egypt and the continual inspiration and relevance of Egyptology from the time of Bonaparte to that of Sun Ra;
  • Architecture Against Death, an installation by Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins exploring architectures of the transhuman and new possibilities for cultural invention.