History of Curation Part 1.

The term ‘Curator’ is a Latin word which derives from ‘Curare’ meaning, ‘Take care/care giver’
This can still be seen in the definition of the modern word ‘curate’:
cu·rate

verb /ˈkyo͝oˌrāt/
curated, past participle; curated, past tense; curates, 3rd person singular present; curating, present participle

    • Select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition)
      • – both exhibitions are curated by the museum’s director
The Origins of Curating
Where could we place the origins of curating?
The origins of Curation, could be placed to the moment in which ‘man’ first started making a mark on his surroundings, possibly even as soon as he started thinking. He was thus, with out even realising, ‘curating’ his mind and his surroundings.
A Brief History of the Origins of Curation (17th-20th Century)
17th Century
Robert Hooke (1635-1703), a natural philosopher, inventor and architect, was the first ‘curator of experiments’ for the Royal Society, London, in December 1663.
The work undertaken and curated by Hooke was far from anything with which we may associate a curator of today. Below shows an image of Hooke 1667 experiment entitled ‘Keeping a dog alive by blowing through its lungs with bellows’.
Respiration of a dog
Fig 1. Keeping a dog alive by blowing through its lungs with bellows, Robert Hooke, 1667
18th Century
Between 1709 and 1714, Johann Wilhelm II von der Pfalz, a German prince residing in Düsseldorf, built a separate building attached to his palace, to house his substantial art collection.The style of display was very different to the way in which we expect a gallery to be presented today; it was floor to ceiling, without much ‘breathing space’ between artworks, and much more of a display of wealth and power than a communication of artworks.
View of a Room at Pommersfelden Palace / Johann Georg Pintz
Fig 2. View of a Room at Pommersfelden Palace, Johann Georg Pintz, 1728
Wilhelm hired Lambert Krahe as its director in 1756, and opened it to public display. Krahe broke the viewing traditions of the time, instead choosing to display works in a much more uncluttered, refined way, which encouraged views to draw comparisons between the juxtaposed pieces.
Portrait of Li Hongzhang in Tianjin / Liang ShitaiFig 3. First Room, First Façade of the Düsseldorf Gallery, etching. Nicolas de Pigage and Christian von Mechel, 1778 

Babylon (500BC est.) Discovered, 1925

In 1925 archaeologist, Sir Leonard Woolley discovered a curious collection of artefact’s while excavating the palace of Princess Ennigaldi of the Babylonian empire. They appeared to have been ‘curated’ by the princess herself, Woolley had discovered the worlds oldest ‘Museum’.
 
Fig 4. The excavation of Ennigaldi’s Palace
The artefact’s originated from many different times and places, yet neatly organised, and even labelled, via clay cylinders inscribed with three different languages, reminiscent of the multilingual signs that are often seen in tourist hot spots, such as museums today. However,the labelling system was considered primitive by archaeologists at the time.
Fig 5. A labelling cylinder found at Enngaldi’s ‘museum’
Cabinet of curiosities,
Occurring in Renaissance Europe, these ‘cabinets’ were collections of objects, whose catelogical boundaries were yet to be defined. Other names by which they were called include Cabinet of Wonder, and in German Kunstkammer (“art-room”) or Wunderkammer (“wonder-room”).
 “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction.” (Fiorani)
Fig 6. The ‘Kunstkammer’ of Ole Worm (Circa 1600’s)
The ‘patron’s control’ can certainly be seen in Fig 6. It follows the same ‘wall-to-ceiling’ approach demonstrated in other ‘status’ viewing spaces of the time, (see Fig. 2)
 
Kazimer Malevich, “Last Futurist Exhibition” 
The Black Square (1915)
 
Fig 7. Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ displayed within ‘The Last futurist Exhibition’ (1915)
 –
Displayed in the centre of the image, upon the point of convergence of the two walls is Malevich’s ‘Black Square’, potentially becoming a transitional point, or a religious icon. Its unusual placement, sets it apart from it’s surrounding works and provides the work with greater visual impact.
The layout of ‘The Last Futurist Exhibition’ seems much closer to the displays we see in galleries today than that of the Kunstkammer, (fig 6.) however, it still seems to retain elements of a ‘floor-to-ceiling’ presentation as seen in fig 2.
Aby Warburg (1866-1929)
The First Contemporary curator
A German art historian, of Jewish background, and a cultural theorist, he founded the Warburg institute in 1944. Warburg was highly interested the connections between one item and another, and the meaning of their placement in conjunction with one another. He possessed a monumental library of around 60,00 books which he organised according to their ‘elective affinities’, the secret connections that Warburg found within them. A piece which he obsessively attended in a similar style to his library was his ‘Menemosyne Atlas’.
Mnemosyne Atlas
The legacy of antiquity in the imagery of later epochs, from the renaissance and the baroque, to the early 20th century. (Displayed in the Warburg institute in London.)
Fig 8. The Mnemosyne Atlas
In the Atlas Warburg highlighted connections between antiquity and Baroque and renaissance compared with that of his ‘modern day’ through careful image and item placement. He is now regarded as one of the first contemporary curators.

References:

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