An Insight into the Curatorial Process : Conversation with Monique Burger and her curatorial team

by Julia Marchand

Monique Burger. Photo credits: Herlinde Koelbl.Since the early 1990s, the Swiss-born, Hong Kong based collectors Monique Burger and her husband have been building up a significant collection with an emphasis on Euro-American, Indian and Asian art. It boasts more than 1000 works from 120 artists – Atul Dodiya, Wim Delvoye, Tracy Emin, Gang Zhao, Ryan Gander, Chitra Ganesh, Goldbert and George, Douglas Gordon, N.S. Harsha, Zarina Hashmi, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Bharti Kher, Liu Wei, Nalini Malani, Vik Muniz, Shirin Neshat, Julian Opie, Richard Prince, Mithu Sen and Ranbir Kaleka, to name a few.

Since 2005, the holdings of this collection have been available online on the Burger Collection (BC) website. In 2009, Monique Burger decided to bring her collection to a broader public by turning it into a four-part exhibition titled ‘Quadrilogy’. Entirely self-funded, the exhibition and on-going research project are under the curatorial leadership of Daniel Kurjaković who proposed four aesthetic ideas to underscore the exhibition program: Subjectivity, History, Narration and Language. After the show ‘Conflicting Tales, Subjectivity’ (‘Quadrilogy’, Part I) in Berlin, the BG Collection is currently preparing for the next stop of the exhibition in Hong Kong. In addition to this major curatorial undertaking, The Burger Collection has organised seminars (including AAA’s Backroom Conversations at ART Hong Kong and the self-organised ‘Showing Without Telling’ seminar in Switzerland), launched Torrent magazine and is a patron of Para/Site and AAA (Asia Art Archive) in Hong Kong, KHOJ Alternative Space in New Delhi and the Kunsthalle Zürich. Monique Burger, Daniel Kurjaković and Linda Jensen (curatorial assistant) give us a better insight into their various activities.

Julia Marchand (JM): What prompted you to turn your substantial collection into the four-part exhibition project ‘Quadrilogy’?

Monique Burger (MB), Daniel Kurjakovic (DK) & Linda Jensen (LJ): With the need to make the works accessible, we started to devise a public-oriented endeavour which would allow us to make the works more readily available to the art system and art communities, and at the same time explore the radically present function of a private collection.

JM: Time is an important parameter to take into account when building and exhibiting a private collection. How many years ahead do you plan each part? Have you listed all artists participating in the upcoming exhibitions?

MB, DK & LJ: ‘Quadrilogy’ is a platform to test the innumerable aspects of the question: ‘What could be a thoroughly contemporary meaning of the private collection?’ We move ahead in various directions, be it in our co-partnering initiatives or with our research projects, and at the same time plan exhibitions up to 3-5 years in advance. We also allow ourselves to act relatively spontaneously if artists need us, which we believe is one and certainly not the only essential characteristics of a private endeavour.

JM: Do the different aesthetic ideas in ‘Quadrilogy’ reflect already existing themes in the collection that contains artworks from different regions? Did you have to commission new pieces for ‘Quadrilogy’ according to the defined themes?

MB, DK & LJ: In the best sense, the four topics are pretexts to transform or channel the abundance of works into a platform of readable concern. One of their main qualities is to make art from very different regions comparable and to gain geographically and geopolitically precise notions, thereby also discovering the differences (so not really about universalism). Commissioning new pieces is one of the most gratifying parts of exploring the question of multi-regionality. Building up an exhibition involves long-term research before we actually do a show, and is just one of the many instruments keeping the discussion alive in the art world.

JM:This year at Art HK, your organised a panel discussion entitled ‘The Collection as Social Sculpture’ where you discussed how a private collection could go beyond acquiring, storing and lending work to become more broadly ‘enmeshed in the social fabric’. Do the key ideas behind ‘Quadrilogy’ respond to this?

MB, DK & LJ: We conceived ‘The Collection as Social Sculpture’ in order to open an on-going debate which we feel is underrepresented in the present discussion of private collections, once again trying to stress the idea that art is essentially a transformative agent. Art is a common good and we take it as a challenge to reflect on this question from the point of view of a private endeavour that is fully aware of the potential and the ambivalence.

JM: BC’s initiatives engage strongly with the public by attracting an informed audience and by bringing students and young professionals on board projects. How important are private educational initiatives for your foundation as well as in the larger Asian context today?

MB, DK & LJ: We understand our role in strengthening the public educational structure, which is why we have recourse to organizations like de Appel and Asia Art Archive. I think there is, in Asia and beyond, already a strong bond between the private and the public, but to keep it short, our role is probably one of supporting public education structures and especially strengthening the idea of the essential necessity of public-ness in education. Education is a political issue that needs to be supported as it is one of the potential sources of transformative energy in society.

JM: You are currently involved in a patron-project, co-commissioning the Nalini Malani video/shadow play In Search of Vanished Blood exhibited at dOCUMENTA (13). It seems that co-commissioning is a major initiative of the Burger Collection program. What goes into selecting ambitious projects such like this one?

MB, DK & LJ: We try our utmost to keep in close conversation with various artists of the collection. We sometimes ask them if they have an outstanding or exceptional project that might be unrealisable in their given structure or function. Sometimes the answer is yes and they let us know, and if we’re lucky, a great project comes about like the ones with Fiete Stolte, Vittorio Santoro, Jittish Kallat or Nalini Malani. Direct commissions of artists are just one strand as we also support alternative art organizations or publications, just to give two examples. Anyone trying to push these boundaries will trigger our curiosity.

Exhibition view of Nalini Malani, Listening to the Shades no. 1-42, Acrylic, ink and enamel on acrylic sheet, zaudio, 2008. © Nalini Malani. Also in view, Grayson Perry Taste and Democracy, 2004 and Grayson Perry, An Ultimate Consumer Durable, 2005. © Grayson Perry.

JM: On the occasion of your collaboration with Nalini Malani for dOCUMENTA (13), you launched Torrent magazine. (The pilot edition prominently features a conversation between the artist and Daniel Kurjaković.) What was the gensis of the idea for Torrent?

MB, DK & LJ: Whereas Torrent comes out of our several previous activities in the ‘Quadrilogy’ (amongst others, the Theory/Conversations) the magazine also feeds back into it. The initial fundamental idea for Torrent is simple: How to cut through the hypertrophic complexity of the art system, and unravel again the words and methods of the artists themselves?

JM: The Burger Collection is also a patron of KHOJ Alternative Space and AAA. How do you define your role in these organisations?

MB, DK & LJ: Our role is two-fold as supporters and also as partakers. On a general level, the art patronage of Burger Collection spans throughout various types of projects such as the funding of non-profit art organizations, artist publications, cross-cultural programs, studio-grants as well as the production of artworks. Burger Collection actively encourages locally specific endeavours that enhance new or under-examined cross-cultural forms of artistic production which was the case with ‘Art Hotpot from Sopot’, an art exchange program between artists from Sopot (Poland) and Hong Kong.

In the case of AAA, we contribute with financial help, but also work in co-partnership on projects such as the panel discussion “The Collection as Social Sculpture” (held during ARTHK12). I serve on the Board of Directors for Asia Art Archive (and have been a member since 2009). A private collection must keep in touch with institutional developments, and actively implicate itself in artistic projects.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julia Marchand is a French born, London-based art critic and curator. Since 2010, she has been researching contemporary vernacular art from India. She holds a MA in art history from the Sorbonne and in Creative Entrepreneurship from Goldsmiths College. Besides her freelance curating and writing activities, she is studying Goldsmiths MFA Curating program to nurture and feed back into it her curatorial projects.

 

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