David Balzer, 137 pgs, Coach House Books, chbooks.com, $13.95.
That David Balzer set out to write a book about art is certain; whether he also meant to reveal himself as an astute cultural psychologist remains to be seen.
In Curationism, Balzer takes us through a dense whirlwind of cultural-historical touchpoints explaining the emergence of curatorial practice as we now know it, detailing the curator’s evolution from an agent in service of the institution to tastemaker and integral player in proliferating the institution’s brand and existence. The text finishes with an exploration of the professional future of the role in both art commerce and the cultural landscape beyond.
Much of modern curation, Balzer suggests, is mastery of illusion by way of value impartation, a component of the role that has grown since the 90s when capitalist sentiment and the economic instability of the 90s heavily shifted public focus to value.
A thorough analysis of curationism is amiss only insofar as Balzer neglects to fully dissect curation as it applies to our own lives. In an animated conversation with famed curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the author opens the book pondering a fascinating assertion: that the loss of individual identity and the desperate yearning to reclaim it are behind the curatorial impulse that dominates our performance in the digital and physical realms.
Balzer seems to insist that personal connection to and application of curatorial practice is inseparable from our modern understanding of the phenomenon. Yet he decidedly focuses his study at a macro level where institutions and brands are concerned: brief discussions of connected ideas like carefully tended-to music libraries and the Normcore movement function as millennial bait for an idea that, regretfully, is not fully consummated. Despite Balzer’s decidedly scant coverage of nascent lifestyle connoisseurship, Curationism shines for all its diligence otherwise. (Lydia Ogwang)