A Monday lecture at the School of Art exposed members of the Yale community to a myriad of anecdotes about the curating process: from the effect of political upheavals on art exhibits to an artist’s unforeseen decision to perform naked as a dog and to bite audience members.
International curator and art critic Viktor Misiano, who spoke as part of the school’s Monday night lecture series, explored his creative development as a curator for an audience of about 30. Misiano, who has curated exhibitions at several museums in Russia, focused his talk on his more innovative curating creations, rather than the more conventional exhibits he worked on early in life. Although curating is a primarily intellectual endeavor, Misiano also spoke to the logistical hassles that force the curator to look at the exhibit in a new light.
“I want to think about curatorship as a permanent challenge,” he said.
Misiano said he transitioned from his role as a mediator between various artists to a storyteller focused on conveying a historical narrative to an activist engaging with contemporary political issues over the course of his career.
In 1995, for instance, Misiano was invited to curate the Russian Pavilion in the biannual Venice Biennale international art festival, where he said he acted as a curator focused on facilitating collaboration and dialogue between the artists.
But he also provided the audience with an example of how the collaborative method can fail. Misiano said that in 1996, he co-curated the “Interpol” exhibit in Stockholm with Swedish curator Jan Aman. Meant to serve as a metaphor for the European condition in the post-Berlin world by bringing artists from different regions into the same artistic tradition, the exhibition was a “total disaster,” Misiano said. He explained that the Swedish artists had grown up in an art bubble, shielded from outside influence, and were thus uncomfortable with the idea of collaboration.
Misiano jokingly described the dinner with all the artists before opening day as “The Last Supper”: During the meal, Russian artist Alexander Brener declared he did not want to be an artist any longer under such conditions and would instead become a musician. At the opening, he played the drums for the first time in his life and physically destroyed many of the exhibition pieces, changing the exhibition’s focus from collaboration to his work alone.
“The audience that came to see the opening [was confronted] with the disgusting screaming of a newly converted musician,” Misiano said.
Oleg Kulik, another artist involved in the project, declared that he hated humans and did not want to work with them, leading him to perform naked as a dog, Misiano said. He caused an “enormous, enormous scandal” by biting audience members, Misiano said, adding that he co-edited a book on the subject.
Misiano said he faced another challenge during a 1991 Moscow exhibition, which featured “fresh and crazy” young artists to emphasize perestroika and what then-USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev called “Russia’s return to the civilized return of nations.” A week before the exhibition’s scheduled start, Misiano received news of the coup d’état against Gorbachev and phone calls from artists asking if the exhibition would still be held. He replied that it would, saying that if the coup lasted three days, the exhibition would be one of victory and celebration; if the coup lasted three months, it would be one of resistance.
Ria Roberts ART ’15 said she feels it is important to understand the political aspect of art history so as to better understand what contemporary artists can do in politically troubled situations. Darja Bajagic ART ’14 said she enjoyed gaining an understanding of how different artists work.
Misiano has held curator positions at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Art Center in Moscow.