Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else (Coach House Books and Pluto Press, 2014/2015)

“Curate” is now a buzzword applied to everything from music festivals to artisanal cheese. Inside the art world, the curator reigns supreme, acting as the face of high-profile group shows and biennials in a way that can eclipse and assimilate the contributions of individual artists. At the same time, curatorial studies programs continue to grow in popularity, and businesses are increasingly adopting curation as a means of adding value to content and courting demographics. Everyone, it seems, is a now a curator. But what is a curator, exactly? And what does the explosive popularity of curating say about our culture’s relationship with taste, labour and the avant-garde?

In this incisive and original study, critic David Balzer travels through art history and around the globe to explore the cult of curation – where it began, how it came to dominate museums and galleries, and how it was co-opted at the turn of the millennium as the dominant mode of organizing and giving value to content. At the centre of the book is a paradox: curation is institutionalized and expertise-driven like never before, yet the first independent curators were not formally trained, and any act of choosing has become ‘curating.’ Is the professional curator an oxymoron? Has curation reached a sort of endgame, where its widespread fetishization has led to its own demise?

North Americans, get Curationism here. In the UK and EU, get Curationism here.

“This is an unusual art book. It is a book you should read and one that you can. Balzer traces the history and current hegemony of curationism, a practice of jumped-up interior decorators who double as priests explaining the gospel to the unlettered masses. A good read, if you don’t mind reading things that you don’t want to know.” – Dave Hickey

“Balzer writes with zest, scepticism and sly humour as he tracks the rise of the ‘star curator’ as marking the end of any possible avant-garde. Curationism is a memorable exploration that will change how you see so many daily activities. I loved this brilliant book.” – Sheila Heti

“An insightful, provocative and entertaining overview of many of the key issues in both art and cultural life today.” – ArtReview

“Accessible and easy to read. The lucid, concise prose is intentionally free of art jargon and heady, meandering sentences. Deftly surveys a dense century in Western art history. A psalter for the laypeople of the post-internet, post-recession art world. It’s not merely an account of the curationist moment, it’s a devotional for those that are losing faith and seeking answers to the big economic questions.” – Hyperallergic

“Truly engaging.” – Publishers Weekly

“A stimulating, exasperated study.” – The Irish Times

“Lucid….A fast but deep account of the rise of the curator through the art world into popular culture written, very deliberately, for a general audience.” – The Globe and Mail

“Game-changing….A convincing case for the idea that the proliferation of curation can actually tell us something important about the state of contemporary culture….Confidently navigates hundreds of years of history and an impressive diversity of cultural phenomena with insight and style. The book is a kind of intellectual travelogue that epitomizes the educated-but-accessible style to which Balzer seems to aspire….[He] is certainly one of the country’s best generalist critics, an increasingly endangered breed.” – MOMUS

“Curationism is the kind of book I crave: it teaches me something new about the world I live in by altering and enhancing my views of language and history. Curationism challenges readers to engage with its ideas, to form their own responses to Balzer’s view of where we stand and how we got here. It is a beautiful, useful, and timely book.” – The Scrivener Creative Review

National Post best art book of 2014
ICA London Bookshop Best Book of The Year 2015
Nominee for the Melva J. Dwyer Award 2015

Joyland -Balzer1-longcropContrivances (Joyland/ECW Press, 2012)

This debut collection of stories—featuring a talk-show host and her talking hand, a women’s activity group that writes to prisoners, and a poncho-making nudist—is as unique as it is compelling. Set in their own melodramatic worlds, the stories take inspiration from Old Hollywood, Gothic novels, art-world gossip, and maybe a Lifetime movie or two.

Beautifully illustrated throughout, Contrivances proves that tragedy is comedy when you play with it long enough.

Contrivances is a Joyland/ECW Press e-book. Get it here.

“Follows a tradition of urbane portraiture along the lines of Henry James and filmmakers like Whit Stillman and Max Ophüls even as it speaks its own, meticulous cadence….Preternaturally assured.” – The Toronto Review of Books

“Incredibly evocative and strange.” – Maisonneuve