The gods of panel discussions must be working overtime for me this month. I've been to an inordinate number of them, some good, some not so good and none as great as Phaidon's "Viewing Art in the 21st Century: Experience, Screen and Page." It was meant to take up the case for Phaidon's The Art Museum, a "monumental," "colossal tome" that gives door-stopper a new meaning. I have some personal gripes with the book's claim to be "an imaginary museum created and curated...[with] the finest art collection ever assembled." I don't take issue with the art that was chosen—you can't go wrong with a sweeping view of everything from "Byzantine mosaics through Benin bronzes to the abstractions of Brice Marden." The "Mona Lisa" is in there too, of course, prompting one panelist to wonder if anyone still gets inspired by it anymore. Rather, I question the premise of the book itself. Isn't any art book a curated experience, one that can be said to act like an art museum without walls? I suppose, then, that the main difference here is that this book is massive, making it more museum-like than Phaidon's other art offerings? I'm not sure, but woe be the UPS delivery man who had to unload these at the store.
This wasn't addressed by the panel members—Cecilia Dean of Visionaire, Alexander GIlkes of Paddle8, Anne Pasternak of Creative Time and writer Glenn O'Brien, moderated by art critic and curator Carlo McCormick (who let us in on his secret to never feeling overwhelmed or stressed out by museums: smoke pot beforehand). What did follow was a lively hour-long discussion about whether print, as a medium, can stand in for the experience of viewing art in person. Dean made the case for the computer screen as a kind of light box, providing a better viewing experience in some instances, but for certain forms, like video or installation art, there simply is no substitute for an immersive physical space. Imagine racing down Carsten Holler's slide at The New Museum—in a book. That's not to say that if you can't see a work in person you might as well not see it at all. People who don't live near the works they want to see should still be able to access them in some form, and that's where books and the Internet—especially sites like Art.sy—play such a huge role.
The conversation got a bit heated when the topic of curation came up. O'Brien quipped that nowadays everyone thinks they're a curator simply because they can choose things, like collecting their favorite images on Pinterest or Tumblr. While I agree that the term 'curator' is tossed around ad nauseam right now (ushering in a fresh crop of self-promoting model/dj/curators), I highly doubt my fellow Pinteresters would call their boards of cupcakes and shoe obsessions an attempt at curation. Dean pointed out that, at least as far as the Internet goes, there's just too much stuff and we need people to filter that experience for us. Pasternak agreed, adding that anyone can try to play curator online, but there's always room for an informed voice. For more discussion on what curation means today, see m ss ng p eces' new video for Percolate, featuring today's up-and-coming Internet curators.