April 4, 2014 7:30 pm

‘B is for Bauhaus’, by Deyan Sudjic; ‘Ways of Curating’, by Hans Ulrich Obrist

B is for Bauhaus: An AZ of the Modern World, by Deyan Sudjic, Particular Books, RRP£18.99, 480 pages

 

Deyan Sudjic is director of London’s Design Museum and has been a critic for both the Observer and Sunday Times, as well as a curator and director of the Venice Architecture Biennale and author of several books on design. So he knows his onions – specifically his Verner Panton Onion Lights.

As a result, one comes to B is for Bauhaus with expectations of a rigorous reappraisal of the key stuff of modern life. Chapters follow an A-Z format covering some of the biggies: F is for Fashion; K is for Kitchen; N is for National Identity and W is for War. Sudjic rattles through each of his 39 subjects, often covering a lot of ground, and delivers his pithy conclusions on everything from YouTube and Grand Theft Auto IV to furniture retailer Habitat and the concept of authenticity.

Yet Sudjic’s confident style belies the lack of real substance here. Sadly, with only a few exceptions, these pieces are not chewy essays in which questions are raised and ideas explored, but rather glib mini-lectures that, unlike good design, are largely all surface.

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Ways of Curating, by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Allen Lane, RRP£16.99, 192 pages

 

Curating is experiencing a boom: everything from social media to the contents of a boutique wine shop are said to be “curated”. With its conscious echo of John Berger’s 1972 classic Ways of Seeing, Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Ways of Curating is clearly intended as a deconstruction and a demystification of the role of the curator and a resistance to this wider “speculative bubble” that has in some small way made curators of us all.

Obrist is co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London and one of the foremost curators at work in the world today. Through accounts of his own work and that of artists and other curators, he traces the development of the curator from procurer to selector and even facilitator enabling artists to create. “Making art is not the matter of a moment,” he writes, “and nor is making an exhibition; curating follows art.”

This is a highly intelligent, thoughtful and thought-provoking book. Obrist emerges as both scholarly and energetically engaged with the proliferation of ideas in modern culture today.

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