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The University of Southampton

ARTD6097 Contemporary Curation: Theories and Histories

Module Overview

The module is designed to introduce you to various contemporary theories on curation and visual culture relevant to the study of the disciplines. The content of the module provides a context for you to understand the complexity of curatorial practice today, against the background of art history and visual cultural studies, alongside the recent history of curation as a professional practice and an increasingly theoretically formulated academic discipline. The important topics discussed in the module are the main ways in which the concept of contemporary curation might be understood as a set of theoretical approaches within the context of practical challenges and an increasingly canonised history of the discourse. This module will introduce you to the terminology, concepts, theories, histories, and experiments that have led to and constitute the art of curation today.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the sources, principles, concepts, rules, structures and, where relevant, procedures of the module;
  • the interrelationship between the history of curation and the state of professional curation today;
  • selected points of comparison with the academic study of art history and visual cultural studies;
  • the nature and limits of curation within its contemporary expanded field, particularly in relation to new media and the digital humanities;
  • the broader critical, intellectual, social and economic contexts within or as part of which the curator operates;
  • visual cultural thought and theories, processes and practices appertaining to contemporary curation;
  • the function and practical application of theories of curation in the contemporary art world and beyond;
  • core and specialist areas within contemporary curation including exhibition history, critical debates on current directions in the profession, developments within new media and the digital humanities in relation to the art of curation today, the function and critique of the biennial system, challenges faced within curatorial practice, and the current salient cultural aims, political questions, and practical skills needed within the profession and discipline.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • solve problems by applying knowledge of curation and visual cultural studies theory and historical and contemporary approaches of practice in order to address actual problems or hypothetical fact-based situations involving questions of display, authorship, finances, and education-focused exhibition needs, to select key issues, and argue convincingly for possible solutions;
  • apply information gained through instruction and/or self-study to inform, support or critically analyse curatorial positions in context;
  • identify problems and analyse key issues requiring curatorial and visual cultural research, and pursue an independent project to produce a coherent and structured essay or final project, as well as record and reflect upon your intellectual journey in the Learning Log / Blog component of this module;
  • carry out curatorial and visual cultural research in terms of the ability to discover, identify and use up to date primary and secondary curatorial and related visual cultural sources, including academic writings, using both paper and electronic sources;
  • make reasoned arguments in curatorial and visual cultural studies based on appropriately selected source materials;
  • apply curatorial and visual cultural theories to practices (e.g., collaborative curation), understand, and evaluate how different perspectives in theory relate in practice to, for instance, relational aesthetics, feminism, collaborations, education-focused exhibition structures, questions of authorship, biennial systems and networks of contemporary art, institutional critique, critique of spectacle, amongst others;
  • recognise multiple perspectives and integrate/apply these to curatorial and visual cultural studies and their related core issues, such as audience formation, educational-focus within exhibition structures, the relationship between the curator and the artist / practitioner, the relationship between the curator and the ‘object’, the politics of subjects and subjectivity as activated / implicated by / in the exhibition space;
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • structure in coherent manner information and materials from disparate sources, sifting the relevant from the irrelevant;
  • use a range of electronic information sources including the worldwide web, electronic retrieval systems, and on-line curatorial and visual cultural studies materials.
  • evaluate concepts, principles, histories, theories, and practices and make critical judgements of the strengths and weaknesses of particular arguments;
  • reflect constructively upon your learning, and make effective use of feedback received;
  • demonstrate proficiency in the use of the English language, including correct use of curatorial and visual cultural terminology, both orally and in writing;
  • present knowledge and argument in a clear, structured and comprehensible manner, adapted to the needs or requirements of a particular audience or exercise;
  • understand rhetorical and topical, textual, curatorial, visual cultural, historical, and practical problems raising investigative issues of sophisticated complexity and considerable depth;
  • evaluate arguments based on evidence from the curatorial profession and visual cultural institutions;
  • understand the aesthetic, pedagogical, political, socio-economic, and cultural impact of curatorial practices;
  • produce word-processed documents complying with presentation and referencing practice within the academic discipline of curatorial and visual cultural studies;
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate consideration of exhibition design, construction and installation issues and identify historical examples and various theoretical approaches to resolving such curatorial issues;
  • provide considerations of what the “public intellectual presence” of an exhibition and its ancillary outputs will be and how it can prove most effective;
  • explore critical curatorial writing approaches.


The syllabus is designed to provide you with an overview of and a context for curatorial and visual cultural theory in today’s contested global environment. • Contemporary theories of visual culture • Contemporary theories of curatorial practice • History of exhibitions / displays • Contemporary debates around curatorial practice • The Role of the Curator – Collaborations, Collectives, Questions of Authorship • The Rise of Global Biennial Culture • Learning and Interpretation – the role of Education in Contemporary Curation • Who’s Looking? Audience Formation and Publics • Who Benefits? Debordian Marxism, feminism, & post-colonialism: Cultural Politics & Critique in Curation • Institutional Critique and After • Relational Aesthetics & Participatory Art & Contemporary Curation • Curation in the age of New Media & the Digital Humanities

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include The module is taught through a series of lectures and seminars. Teaching methods will place emphasis on theoretical and conceptual curatorial and (visual) cultural understanding, and will include group discussion, guided reflective dialogue, and individual study of module materials and discussion of curatorial and (visual) cultural theories, aesthetic and political concepts, and key ideas associated with the field such as audience engagement and the role of the learning team and interpretation materials, especially in the digital age. Internationalisation This module puts great emphasis on developing an appreciation of the complexities that are inherent in curatorial and visual cultural theory in an era of globalisation. The content of the module will consider contemporary curatorial approaches and practices in light of globalisation – for example, in terms of the rise of biennial culture – and students will engage with practices and networks that embody the current cultural diversity exhibited both in the student cohort and in the wider research and practice-based community. Learning activities include Seminar discussion Peer group learning Reflective writing Presentations

Independent Study350
Total study time400

Resources & Reading list

O’Neill, Paul, Mick Wilson, and Lucy Steeds (eds.) (2016). The Curatorial Conundrum: What to Study? What to Research? What to Practice?. 

Müller, Hans-Joachim (2006).  Harald Szeemann: Exhibition Maker. 

Smith, Terry. Thinking Contemporary Curation.. 

Milliard, Coline, et al (2016). The New Curator [Researcher] [Commissioner] [Keeper] [Interpreter] [Producer] [Collaborator],. 

Marincola, Paula (ed.). What Makes a Great Exhibition?. 

Allen, Felicity (2011). Education. 

Obrist, Hans Ulrich (2014). Ways of Curating.. 

Smith, Terry (2015). Talking Contemporary Curation.. 

Graham, Beryl and Sarah Cook (2010). Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media. 

Steeds, Lucy (ed) (2014). Exhibition. 

Steedman, Marijke (ed) (2009). Gallery as Community: Art, Education, Politics .. 



Essay proposal


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 60%
Essay 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Optional Visits (e.g. museums, galleries)

The main costs for any off-campus visits to professional /arts organisations have been factored into the programme fees.


Taking part in this module will not incur any additional costs, as the key texts are all available in the Winchester School of Art/Hartley libraries.

Recommended texts for this module may be available in limited supply in the University Library and students may wish to purchase the mandatory/additional reading text as appropriate.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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