Book review: Rethinking Curating – Art after New Media by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook

By: Jidi Guo
On: September 20, 2010
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About Jidi Guo
I'm Jidi, I was born in China and at the early age of 4 I moved to the Netherlands with my mother, aunt and grandmother. Lived in Hoorn until I turned 18 and then moved to Amsterdam to study, live on my own, explore big city life. Now four years later I finished my BA in Communication Science and started a MA in New Media. Future plans are living in China for a year or so to learn proper Mandarin and after that who knows..?


First of all I have to note that Rethinking Curating was a surprisingly interesting book to read even for an art layman as myself. It opened my eyes to the difficulties of presenting art in any form and especially new media art, I realized that curating is an art on it’s own. Still I find it quite difficult to review this book based on the fact that I usually encounter art and museums as audience, observing and judging work or a exhibition as a whole by personal taste. Nevertheless, while reading this book I got to think about the importance of the preconditions in which certain forms of art are presented to the audience.

There are three important arguments in the book Rethinking Curating. The first one is that in order to understand any piece of artwork, one has to think about the broad set of histories and for new media art this also contains the technical history. This can be a challenging requirement since these histories are often complex, interdisciplinary and hard to organize. Second, Cook and Graham argue that new media are best understood as ‘behaviours’ instead of materials. The broad histories have led to the development of “critical vocabularies for the fluid and overlapping characteristics of new media art”. And final these behaviours require a rethinking of curating, new ways of “looking at the production, exhibition, interpretation, and wider dissemination (including collection and conservation) of new media art”.

Rethinking Curating can be seen as an collection of theories, arguments and viewpoints on media as well as arts and combines them in a sort of guidebook. None of the issues that the book encounters are being solved by the authors and there are no conclusions drawn, but that doesn’t seem the aim at all. Personally I tend to make the comparisation with an encyclopaedia on new media art as an elaborated reference work. Instead of giving an framework to challenge the difficulties of curating new media art, it looks like the authors really want you to understand the complicatedness of the case by giving insights from different points of view.

To illustrate their arguments Cook and Graham involve a wide range of examples of exhibitions and artworks on how curators play an important role in the presentation of art. This book is a perfect tool for curators to create a mind map of all the elements which should be considered when confronted with new media art. I also think it is an essential piece of literature for art(history) students and curators to-be, since new media art is a relevant topic today and will be even more so in the future. The sooner the ones interested in art understand the challenges of new media art the better they can start coming up with creative ideas and solutions.

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