Curatorship has become a central aspect of contemporary art – as a methodology for art practice and as a critical mediating device between art producer and consumer. Curatorship is also integrally linked to the production and preservation of knowledge and a deep engagement with the world. In response to the growing relevance of curatorial discourse, the Michaelis School of Fine Art has incorporated a greater emphasis on this area, as well as expanded its engagement with curatorial practice. The recently revised Curatorial elective is part of this broader program. It is co-ordinated by Julia Rosa Clark.

The first part of the course begins with a series of introductory lectures and visits from guests. On the first day, Professor Pippa Skotnes introduced the students to ideas of curatorship. Thereafter the group moved to the Iziko South African Museum for a walkabout of the institution and a discussion of curatorship at work.

Three further lectures familiarized the students with the history and development of museums, collecting and display in addition to a survey of the contemporary field. From the wunderkamer to the white cube, various key historical concepts were explored. Students were encouraged to debate the semantics of the terms curatorcuratorship and the curatorial.

Three guests were invited to speak to the students about their experiences and curatorial methodologies.  Former Chief Curator of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Clive Kellner spoke about his formative experience with the Johannesburg Biennale curatorial training program, his time at De Appel and subsequent career as curator. Andrew Lamprecht spoke of his modus operandi, including examples of solo shows with artists and his latest projects, a Tretchikoff retrospective and an outdoor sculpture exhibition at the Nirox Foundation. Andrew Putter discussed ways of activating space, particularly through his integral involvement with radical projects such as the MCQP art parties, Softserve, YDETAG and Suburbanism, as well as his curatorial artworks such as 20 Smells.

A series of three-hour workshops and exercises familiarised students with the concerns of exhibition making including taxonomy, labelling, display, spatialisation and logistics. Artist Justin Brett, whose own work incorporates scale models both as form and concept, introduced the students to the skill of scale model building. Nadja Daehnke, curator of the Michaelis Gallery, discussed practical considerations such as planning, press and budgeting with the students.

Following this input, the students were asked to research and conceptualise a curated show of contemporary South African artworks for the Michaelis Upper Gallery. These hypothetical visions were presented in miniature form, using scale models of the Upper Gallery made by each student. Some students chose to propose group shows. For example, Emma Nourse’s 'Taal' brought together various works about language and Jessa Mockridge’s 'Class of 2001' proposed a site-specific event to celebrate a particularly successful set of Michaelis graduates. Others presented solo shows in a number of innovative ways: Anna Stielau’s 'Peepshow' turned the gallery space into a plush cinema for Athi Patra Ruga’s video works; James King’s 'To Care For' presented the space as a site for quiet one-on-one contemplation of the work of Adriaan Van Zyl and Haroon Gunn-Salie organised a tour of in situ work by FaithFortySeven.

The group of nineteen scale models (with accompanying explanatory material) was then presented as a public exhibition titled '1:nineteen'. The name of the show was decided democratically by the 19 student participants to reflect the idea of scale and the relationship between individual and group.

The students worked in groups to organise everything from the press release, advertising, invitations, lighting, display, labels and accompanying text to the opening event (replete with opening speaker, Clive Kellner, and sponsored snacks!). The hard work of sanding and painting plinths, endless group negotiations and last minute scrambles paid off and the evening was a great success.

The Curatorial elective was generously funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. This allowed each student a small individual budget. The group also had a general budget for the public exhibition. Monitoring their spending was also a very useful pedagogic experience for the students, as was group work and the practical outcome of the public exhibition (the trial-by-fire of a 'real' audience).

This elective – one amongst a few choices – will be offered twice a year to third years. It forms a supplement to the student’s core discipline.