“In the past, young people wanted to become a DJ. Nowadays the trendy job is: curator” (Reichert 2011), a Tagesspiegel headline stated. In 2017, Stefan Heidenreich aggressively demanded: “No more curators!” (Heidenreich 2017) in an article in Die Zeit. The activities of the ‘curator’, i.e. ‘to curate’, are in the public interest and are viewed very critically. If we speak in positive terms of agents, networkers, and ‘connectors’, then the curator brings together things, people, space, and discussions that have not been connected before. But how can the curator of a city initiate “the passion for improvisation”, as specified by Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis, which is needed to enable the best possible “space and opportunity at any price” (Benjamin and Lacis1925:166-167)?

An increasing dissolution of the links between social and spatial structures, along with the fragmentation and increasing heterogeneity of urban space and its surroundings, took place during the 20th century. Since the 1970s, this has led to artists focusing more on the city and its public spaces — for instance, Gordon Matta-Clark`s ‘Cuttings’ or Trisha Brown´s performance of ‘Roof Piece’ on the roofs of Manhattan. In these works, the city served both as the raw material and as a resource. The new ‘site-specificity’ of art sought to counteract the non-diversification of urban space that followed from functionalist principles of urban design and the implementation of major infrastructural developments. It was related closely to the wish to make public space facilities — as places for autonomous action and communication — accessible to urban society.

During the 1980s, the opportunities for artistic practice to go beyond the institutionalized context of museums and galleries gained greater prominence. The ‘art as public space’ movement took a critical look at the newest political and social themes. It was not only concerned with the aesthetic experience of a location, but also about an overall improvement in urban living conditions, along with the creation of new communication arenas. Innovative exhibition practices were called for and the curator´s brief expanded; originally an archivist and collector, (s)he became an agent of the artists, a location scout, and mediator. Jessica Cusick´s ‘Messages to the Public’, for example, formed a key part of the Public Art Fund´s long-term commitment to media-based artworks. Running from 1982 to 1990, the show featured a series of artists´ projects created specifically for the Spectacolor light board at Times Square. Every month, a different artist, such as Jenny Holzer or Lorna Simpson, presented a thirty-second animation.

Artistic interest in socio-political questions increased in the 1990s. According to Suzanne Lacy´s anthology ‘Mapping the Terrain’, New Genre Public Art (NGPA), or ‘art in the public interest’, emerged then. The focal point here was not so much the identity of the city but rather the importance of putting citizens at the forefront. Criticism of the ‘Art Institution’ included criticism of urban design. The ‘White Cube’ should have been open to an alternative critical publicity and to other social groups, thus enabling a collective experience (Hildebrandt 2012: 727f).


Publikation: Porous City: From Metaphor to Urban Agenda, p. 114 ff.

Herausgeber: Sophie Wolfrum

Verlag: Birkhäuser, 2018

ISBN: 3035615780, 9783035615784




Arbeitsgruppe Perspektiven der Hamburger Kunstkommission (2017): Gutachten zur Neuausrichtung des Hamburger Programms ‘Kunst im öffentlichen Raum’ und zur Einrichtung einer Modellinstitution für Kunst im urbanen Raum Hamburg, transl. by author, available at: http://www.hamburg.de/contentblob/8718414/792d82396c28df2ce1870322f995d06f/data/konzept-urbane-kunst.pdf, pp. 2ff.


Benjamin, W. and Lacis, A. (1925): Neapel, translated as ‘Napels’ in: Demetz, P., ed. (1978): Reflections. Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, New York, pp. 163–173.


Elmgreen, M. and Dragset, I. (2013): A Space Called Public, available at: www.aspacecalledpublic.de, accessed 28.09.2017.


Harvey, D. (2012): Rebel Cities. From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, London and New York.


Hauck, T., Hennecke, St. and Körner, St. (2017): Aneignung urbaner Freiräume – Ein Diskurs über städtischen Raum, Bielefeld, p. 11.


Heidenreich, S. (2017): Schafft die Kuratoren ab!, in: Die Zeit, 21.06.2017 issue, available at: http://www.zeit.de/2017/26/ausstellungen-kuratoren-kuenstler-macht.


Hildebrandt P. M. (2012): Urbane Kunst, in: Eckardt, F., ed.: Handbuch Stadtsoziologie, Wiesbaden, pp.721–744.


Loy, J. (2017): Auf Wiedersehen – in elf Jahren?, in: Westfälische Nachrichten, 28.09.2017 issue, available at: http://www.wn.de/Muenster/3000935-Skulptur-Projekte-2017-Auf-Wiedersehen-in-elf-Jahren.


Loy, J. and Speckmann, L. (2017): Die Kunst nimmt Abschied. Welche Skulpturen sollen bleiben?, in: Westfälische Nachrichten, 27.09.2017 issue, available at: http://www.wn.de/Muenster/3000882-Video-Umfrage-zu-Skulptur-Projekten-Die-Kunst-nimmt-Abschied-Welche-Skulpturen-sollen-bleiben.


LWL–Museum für Kunst und Kultur (2017): Skulptur-Projekte, available at: https://www.skulptur-projekte.de/#/De/Information, accessed 28.09.2017.


Messner, P. (2016): transcribed conversation with the author, Munich


Reichert, K. (2011): Stell die Verbindung her. Traumjob Kurator, in: Der Tagesspiegel, 14.07.2011 issue, available at: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/traumjob-kurator-stell-die-verbindung-her-seite-3/4395950-1.html.