In dialogue with Bice Curiger about her “Riotous Baroque”

Stefano Pirovano

We sat down with curator Bice Curiger, to talk about her ongoing dialogue with contemporary art and art from the past centuries.

Bice Curiger has been the curator of the Venice Biennial 2011, and, since 1993, of the Kunsthaus Zürich. Her view on the relationship between the present and the past is a landmark in contemporary art, as proved by her last show, Riotous Baroque, now at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Here our interview with her.

Maurizio Cattelan (1960-), Untitled, 2007, Private Collection.

What have you discovered by working with old masters and contemporary artists at the same time?

Bice Curiger: The juxtaposition of “old” and “new” art is something that bears a lot of traps, when it is made following banal analogies of motif or form. In my case I can say that I discovered that the base could be the principles we know from film: Montage, cuts, the “collision” of two realities with common affinities.

Which are the opportunities provided by this approach?

Bice Curiger: I think museums should trust more in the perceptive capabilities of a contemporary public. Nowadays we are all conditioned by a highly visual speedy culture. There is a certain intelligence and energy to be discovered for the purpose of showing art (history).

When and why have you started to be interested in the relationship between antiques and contemporary art?

Bice Curiger: When I was studying in the 70ies, history of art at the European universities stopped more or less with the arrival of Cézanne..  but I always considered myself mainly interested in contemporary art and still see living artists as my partners when looking back in history. I have now worked for 20 years as a curator for contemporary art at a museum with a collection spanning 500 years of art, the Kunsthaus Zurich, which by the way, was founded by artists not by a prince or a statesman… This situation was very encouraging and inspiring to me, and I began to develop  a series of thematical exhibitions, which were proposition to look at art history of the 20th century in an unconventional way. This mainly because I was emphasizing the contemporary perspective, taking the inspiration from recent art. But after a while I realized that there was like a taboo line behind which one should not go back, it was coinciding with the advent of Modernism. So I started to reflect on how to trespassing that line in an intelligent and productive way. “Riotous Baroque” but also my proposition at the 54th Biennale, including Tintoretto in that contemporary art “festival” were the result.

Would you like to suggest us some good readings about this topic?

Bice Curiger: I feel, that I opened the door into a new territory..  The readings I can suggest have more to do with the reflection on “what is contemporary”? Hal Foster did an inquiry on this subject a while ago in October magazine (see reference in the Barroco catalog).

Which is your ideal museum?

Bice Curiger: I just love museums in general, they represent an open universe and there is always, always something to discover. But if you mean an institution that I really like, then I would cite the Tate in London. It’s a very lively place, addressing a mass public but at the same time being very sophisticated and advanced in presenting and discussing artistic issues of today’s world.

How does the contemporary art curator’s role change if old masters and antiques are involved?

Bice Curiger: The starting point should still remain your love of art and artists and the interest to understand the world we live in. The challenge today for a curator should be that the approach to art and art history should basically be challenged by shared everyday experiences and not only be fueled by the will to preach a canonic view and knowledge of the history of art to the visitors.

September 21, 2020