Suzana Milevska: Text for the catalogue

School for Curators and Critics of Contemporary Art
Season 13
2nd Year (September 2010–May 2011)

Workshop on writing about contemporary art

January 28-29, 2011

Introductory lecture

The writer’s own voice – the text contributed to a catalogue as performative writing
The text contributed to a catalogue is an example of interdisciplinary and performative writing. This genre is very important as every exhibition revolves around a particular concept, which the contributed article must elucidate. However, a well-grounded essay must also meet other objectives. It must clearly present relevant information, which, in order to be collected and selected, must often be based on extensive research. Still, a contribution to a catalogue is a text, which means that every author must find one’s own voice in writing it.
Therefore, writing a text for a catalogue is realized as a performative combination of radically different views: extrapolation of the concept, collecting and analyzing relevant information (about works or themes connected to the exhibition) and the personal quest for one’s own, unique voice (of the writer/curator).
Despite being open to experimentation, this genre also has its specific rules which must be followed to justify its existence.
Theoretical concepts, literature and certain creative writing strategies can help the writer find an appropriate way of writing for every exhibition and catalogue text. However, a catalogue text is a unique genre, which is neither theoretical nor literary. It is also goes far beyond merely describing or summarizing art concepts or terminology from outside but it rather assumes a process of “being with” and “writing with” the art on which is written.

Subgenres of the catalogue text
Established exhibition models (solo, monographic, retrospective, thematic, overview or international biennial) and those recently introduced (on-line, collaborative, participatory) demand re-examination of the genre.
The main issue in this part of the workshop will focus on how to adapt and change one’s writing strategies, form, vocabulary and similar elements in writing different texts, and how this effects one’s ‘own voice’.

Preparation for a close reading workshop
This short session will enable the better organization of the reading of various examples of texts and forming groups of participants on the basis of the similar themes or genres of selected texts.

Close reading workshop
Issues discussed generally and theoretically in the morning will be applied to concrete examples of the selected texts. In advance to the workshop each participant should have had selected one catalogue text and a particular passage from that text. During the close reading session the discussion will focus on looking at the qualities and omissions in the selected texts and on the justification of the individual choices.

Suggested theoretical texts:

  • Wollheim, Richard. “Correspondence, projective properties, and expression in the arts” in Kemal, Salim and Ivan Gaskell. Eds. The Language of Art History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991, 51-66.
  • Baxandll, Michael. “The language of Art Criticism” in Kemal, Salim and Ivan Gaskell. Eds. The Language of Art History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991, 67-74.
  • Wollheim, Richard. Art and its Objects. Second edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980.


Friday, 28. 1. 2011
10.00-11.30: Introductory lecture
12.00-13.30: Subgenres of the catalogue text
13.30-15.00: Break
15.00-15.30: Preparation for a close reading workshop
15.30-17.30: Close reading workshop
18.00-19.00: Questions and answers about assignment

Saturday, 29. 1. 2011
10.00-14.00: Presentation of texts
14.00-15.30: Break
15.30-17.30: Division into groups and discussion about written texts
17.30-19.00: The overall presentation of the observations and conclusions