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Thinking with Ruth Noack - A Few Words About the Curatorial Course

Curators are a special bunch. They are very involved in their own world, guided by Ruth Noack, a renowned curator and their teacher for the course. In a short conversation, I learned more about how she approaches the 2-week summer course.


Ruth Noack giving a lecture


When you were invited, how did you approach the idea of teaching a summer course in curating?

What was really interesting about the Salzburg program is the democratic policy behind it. So, anyone can apply, it’s not geared towards either professionals or the lay people, so there is a mix. The most important thing for me is that I didn’t choose students, I just accepted anyone who applied.

How did you devise the program for the course?

There’s only one basic principle that is relevant here, which is to think of works of art as having a meaning, trying to gather this meaning, further this meaning by conceiving of these works within an exhibition. It’s quite abstract and it can take different forms. I called it “thinking with works”, to really take the works of art as the basis of the curatorial approach.

And how do you transfer this idea to students, in what forms?

Well, I brought some original artworks, that’s how we started. My students were also asked to bring some, so they had them with them. We started looking at them, talking about them, ordering them into small groups of what might be a small exhibition.

You mentioned that your students come from different practices or no practice at all. Do you try to introduce some kind of coherence in your class?

The good thing is that I’m not working on my own, I have a co-teacher. She is very important for managing this discrepancy and diversity. Grace Samboh, she comes from Indonesia. Grace is very used to working in groups and in collectives, so she’s incredibly good in enabling a group to cohere while keeping their diversity. Some days are better than other days with this, of course sometimes different interests arise and that can become a conflict, but generally, I’ve made it clear that everyone’s to be taken seriously and everyone’s to be heard.

After this course, what are you hoping that the students will take with them?

If you’re asking what I hope to instill in them it’s kind of curatorial ethics. I don’t think curating can be taught in 2 weeks, I’m not even sure curating should be taught at all. I learned on my own and many of the curators that I really respect never went through curatorial courses, so I think that curatorial courses in universities are often a bit of a humbug. It’s a selling point, but not necessarily producing people who have something to say and just producing very obedient people within a system. That’s my personal view, and I might be the only one who thinks so and still teaches curating.

So, what I’m hoping to instill at least within these two weeks is people who understand that they really need to want to do what they’re doing and they need to also maybe not make compromises in that. Basically, each of us only has one lifetime and one shouldn’t waste one’s time.


Ruth Noack during her lecture




Tonight, Ruth's co-teacher, Grace Samboh will be giving a lecture. And I have a meeting with a very important man.



Read about it tomorrow!


Till then,



Photos by Mira Turba
26/07/17 12:50 Summer Academy 2017

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