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What I have seen in the big art exhibitions of the last decades is that curators sometime overrule the artworks they present and submit them to their own idea's.
Interview part of the Serie under the title Selecting: Communicating Knowledge.
What is the main function of a curator?
I am old enough to know that the function of a curator is a changing one, for better or worse. Curators used to be working in museums and they had to make exhibitions and better good ones at that. I have been part of a team that made a big fashion exhibition for the Stedelijk Museum in 1980. I have made several exhibitions on Dutch Design, presentations of the work of my students from the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam and I have done a big exhibition on Dutch jewellery from the 20th century with the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. I have always been involved with the content and the reason to make a show, but I know my limits. To make a good exhibition, you must collaborate with people who do the design of the show, the light, who can enhance the basic message of the show and take care that the objects are visible in their best way.
Curator first came into use as meaning overseer, however in the 21st century, a curator is probably best known as a ‘multitasked’ for an exhibition, what do you consider yourself in this position as a freelancer?
The first answer covers most of this question. I know a lot about multitasking, what I am good at is overseeing the list of people to invite and write press releases. It does not matter if I do this as a freelancer or as part of my job.
- What I have seen in the big art exhibitions of the last decades, like the Documentas in Kassel and the Biennales in Venice, is that curators sometimes overrule the artworks they present and submit them to their own idea's.
How has the work of a curator changed in the last years?
What I have seen in the big art exhibitions of the last decades, like the Documentas in Kassel and the Biennales in Venice, is that curators sometimes overrule the artworks they present and submit them to their own idea's. That is overdoing it, respect for the work you present is essential for any curator, neither jewellery nor works of art are props.
What is the favourite / dislike part of your work?
Ha ha, curating exhibitions has only been part of my work, so I don't have to elaborate on this question.
- For every exhibition, there is a reason to make it in a certain time and place. You better make sure that these are good reasons to do it.
Regarding to curatorial process, how does an idea usually start for an exhibition? And how do you develop it?
For every exhibition, there is a reason to make it in a certain time and place. You better make sure that these are good reasons to do it.
An exhibition, event, meeting... that has impressed you especially?
After a long life of going to exhibitions, the one that stands out above all are the Chambre d'Amis in Ghent in 1986 and a Brancusi exhibition in the Centre Pompidou in Paris in the 1990s. The first one because the relation between works of art and the houses that people in Gent live in was the central issue. The second one because you saw the work of Brancusi as he had meant it to be seen himself, placed on rough wooden forms and other materials. It was a feast of shapes, skins and forms, the show took you into a universe that was private and endless at the same time. These qualities are just as important for exhibitions on jewellery.
The jewellery exhibitions I like best are when the jewellery has been given a context.
Meetings are different matter. There you must feel welcome, there must be an atmosphere of openness. Since the Dutch can be very outspoken, that is asked a lot.
How do you feel curating contemporary jewellery?
At the moment, all my energy goes to my new book and making a jewellery presentation is still in the back of my mind.
In 2005, at the Sandberg Institute we did an international project on presenting jewellery, together with the Hiku Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. A group of nine young jewellery designers discussed their possibilities to show their work and how to widen their audience. They explored the ways to present their jewellery 'out of the box' on the basis of three main categories: place, print and new media. In 2006, the results were published in the catalogue 'unlimited'. Re-reading the text I wrote in 2005, I still agree with the theme of the project and its conclusions.
What do you think is the most interesting thing that you helped to make happen?
In 1991 I organised an international symposium on Fashion and the Environment for the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. That was a very new way of looking at design, how environmental matters can influence the work you make. At the symposium, you had to be very alert, because so much information came together for the first time. And in fashion, in the end you have that nice explosion of energy and creativity that is called a fashion show.
Also, I am proud of my years at the Sandberg Institute. It was a completely new way of thinking in Dutch art education, developing a Master course for the applied arts or free design as it was called then. The first international bunch of students that came to Amsterdam took a risk with me, an art historian and not a maker as head of the department. It was a big adventure with an open end and it demanded a lot of them. But now I can see my students of that time doing good work, teaching at all sorts of institutes themselves and going ahead in their professions, also in jewellery. From them, I can wear their work with deep satisfaction and when I go places, it is always good to see them again.
My point is, also in the resarch for my new book, that jewellery is meant to be worn. The reasons why people make jewellery derive from the reasons why people want to wear jewellery.
A visitor at The Special Collections in the lower floor of the Rijksmuseum where part of the donated collection of 500 pieces on Dutch jewellery from the 20th century of Marjan and Gerard Unger is on show.
What has been your most memorable response by a colleague to an artwork shown in an exhibition curated by you?
The most memorable comments come from the artists, not from other curators.
The curatorial project you could never make up?
You wait and see, may be I still will.
Marjan Unger studied design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, History of Art at the University of Amsterdam, including architecture, modern art, fashion and textile design, industrial archeology and history of art of China and Japan and got her doctorate at the University of Leiden. As an art historian and design critic she has worked at the Hogeschool der Kunsten, the art academy of Rotterdam and at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. From 1995 till 2006 Marjan was head of the post-graduate course in the Applied Arts at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, which is affiliated to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy.
She has coordinated and (c0-) organised symposia, exhibitions and presentations of design, including jewellery, and participated in the board of advice for museums, ministries and foundations. She is the author of several books. In 2009 Marjan made the selection for Schmuck 2009 and in 2010 Marjan and Gerard Unger donated 500 pieces of Dutch jewellery from the 20th century to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Part of that donation is on show within the Special Collections.
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