Critique and Curating

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
10 October 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

MA V35612 Curating,
MA V356PP Curating with Professional Placement

Module description

This module investigates the interrelationship between critique and curating from the 1920s to the present.

To this end, the module will focus on the concept of 'critical curating', which broadly refers to the ways in which curatorial activities assume, or have the capacity to assume, a critical function: for example, by offering experiences to a spectator that heighten his or her capacity for critical thought, or by turning an exhibition into a form of social or political critique.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To investigate the interrelationship between critique and curating.

  • To hone students’ ability to analyse and conceptualise diverse curatorial practices for their critical potential.

  • To expose students to a range of approaches used in secondary scholarship about curatorial practice and critical theory.

  • To help students develop skills in written communication through an essay, oral communication and debate in seminars.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Acquire an in-depth knowledge of the curatorial practices and critical theories addressed in this module.

  2. Understand the historical and conceptual relationship between critique and curating;.

  3. Think ‘laterally’ and creatively in order to discern connections and possibilities between curatorial practice and critique.

  4. Demonstrate these competences in a well-researched essay.

Module information

Organized roughly chronology, the module is divided into three parts. The first part explores the foundation for critical curating set by the historical avant-garde during the interwar period, including some ways in which avant-garde display practices got used as forms of political propaganda. Our discussion then shifts to a series of developments that expanded and changed the field of critical curating from the 1960s through the 1980s, including the rise of the curator as 'author'; the role of curation in alternative art spaces; and the emergence of 'institutional critique'. In the final part of this module, we focus on key developments in critical curating over roughly the last two decades, which we consider in relation to the concepts of relational aesthetics, postcolonialism and paracurating.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 2-hour seminar per week.
  • One reading week with no seminars.

Discussion will be encouraged throughout.


  • Bronner, S. (2011) Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press. Available at:
  • Staniszewski, M.A. (1998) The power of display: a history of exhibition installations at the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Lissitzky, E. (2008) ‘Exhibition Rooms’, in Public photographic spaces: exhibitions of Propaganda, from Pressa to The Family of Man, 1928-55. Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, pp. 75–77.
  • Benjamin, W. (1992) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction [1936, excerpt]’, in Art in theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 520–527.
  • Jolles, A. (2013) The Curatorial Avant-Garde: Surrealism and Exhibition Practice in France, 1925-1941. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 93–137.
  • Breton, A. (1992) ‘Second Manifesto of Surrealism [excerpt]’, in Art in theory, 1900-1990: an anthology of changing ideas. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 446–450.
  • Foster, H. (2016) ‘1942b’, in Art since 1900: modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism. Third edition. London: Thames and Hudson, pp. 353–357.
  • Tymkiw, M. (2018a) Nazi exhibition design and modernism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Available at:
  • Foucault, M. (1992) ‘What is an Author?’, in Art in theory, 1900-1990: an anthology of changing ideas. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 923–928.
  • O’Neill, P. (2012) The Culture of Curating, The Curating of Culture(s). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Altshuler, B. (1994) The Avant-Garde in Exhibition: New Art in the 20th Century. New York: Abrams.
  • Lucy Lippard (2002) ‘Biting the Hand: Artists and Museums in New York since 1969’, in Alternative art, New York, 1965-1985: a cultural politics book for the Social Text Collective. New York: Drawing Center, pp. 79–102.
  • Bryan-Wilson, J. (2009) Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Foster, H. et al. (2016) ‘1971’, in Art since 1900: modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism. Third edition. London: Thames and Hudson, pp. 621–624.
  • Fraser, A. (2005a) ‘From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique’, Artforum, 44(1), pp. 278–283. Available at:
  • Alberri, A. (2011) ‘Institutions, Critique, and Institutional Critique’, in A. Alberro and B. Stimson (eds) Institutional critique: an anthology of artists’ writings. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, pp. 2–19.
  • Bourriaud, N. (2006) ‘Relational Aesthetics’, in Participation. London: Whitechapel, pp. 160–171.
  • Altshuler, B. (2013) Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions that Made Art History, 1962-2002. London: Phaidon, pp. 325–340.
  • Claire Bishop (2004) ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’, October, 110, pp. 51–79. Available at:
  • Buchloh, B. and Martin, J.-H. (1989) ‘Interview: Benjamin Buchloh & Jean-Herbert Martin’, Third Text, 3(6), pp. 19–27.
  • Enwezor, O. (2002) ‘The Black Box’, in Documenta 11_Platform 5: Ausstellung/exhibition: Ausstellungsorte/exhibition venues. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, pp. 42–55.
  • Enwezor, O. (2015b) ‘“The State of Things”’, in All the World’s Futures. 56 International Art Exhibition. La Biennale Di Venezia. 2 vols. Venezia: Marsilio Editori, pp. 16–21.
  • Enwezor, O. (2015a) ‘“Exploding gardens” in All the World’s Futures: La Biennale Di Venezia, 56 International Art Exhibition’, in All the World’s Futures: La Biennale Di Venezia, 56 International Art Exhibition. Venezia: Marsilio Editori, pp. 90–95.
The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   4000 word essay  15/01/2024  100% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Michael Tymkiw, email:
PHAIS Postgraduate Queries:



External examiner

Dr H Camilla Smith
University of Birmingham
Lecturer in Art History
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


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