The 20 Most Influential Young Curators in Europe

Artsy Editorial
Mar 30, 2016 6:57PM

The canons of art history are fluid and changing. And it’s the role of curators to come in, make sense of it all, and present a picture of where art will head next. They act as stewards, activate ideas, draw connections, bring attention to lesser-known artists and overlooked regions, and highlight topics that warrant deeper conversation. And as political and social mores continue to shift, acting as a dedicated arts connoisseur is only part of the job description. For many curators, their posts come with the responsibility of mediating between three active players: artists, institutions, and the public.

Here, we take a look at the next wave of influential decision-makers in institutions, independent project spaces, and galleries across Europe who are expanding definitions of what art is, and what it can be.

Since taking the reins as director and curator of Kunsthalle Basel, Los Angeles-born Filipovic has produced one elegantly executed exhibition after another, featuring artists such as Andra Ursuta, Vincent Fecteau, Mark Leckey—not to mention the standout solo show by Anicka Yi, which visitors to last summer’s Art Basel in Basel flocked to in droves. A scholar with hip and prescient taste, Filipovic dedicated her Ph.D. studies at Princeton (supervised by Hal Foster), to the life’s work of Marcel Duchamp—one of the most referenced and influential artists of the past century. An edited version of her dissertation, The Apparently Marginal Activities of Marcel Duchamp, will be published by MIT Press this September, and will likely end up on more than a few art lovers’ shelves. Filipovic also has a 700-page tome on Felix Gonzalez-Torres forthcoming, following the retrospective she organized as senior curator at WIELS that traveled to Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and Fondation Beyeler. Filipovic has come a long way since co-curating the 5th Berlin Biennale along with Adam Szymczyk, the current Documenta 14 artistic director. And her tightly curated shows of singular voices are only getting better. Future solos to watch out for in Basel are with Sam Lewitt, Yngve Holen, and Anne Imhof.

Samman has a knack for projecting into the future, slicing through junctures of technology and environment, identity and community, claiming, “Art is a game we play across generations, and in partnership with people we might never meet in person.” It’s a game for which he chooses to set his own rules. It’s already been a busy year for Samman. His catalogue for “Rare Earth,” an exhibition in 2015 at Vienna’s TBA21 that included artists Camille Henrot and Iain Ball, was just published. His latest show, “Desert Now,” opened on March 19th at L.A.’s Steve Turner and features some of the hottest young artists to emerge from Berlin in the past few years: Julius von Bismarck, Julian Charrière, and Felix Kiessling. (It was co-curated with Anja Henckel, fellow co-director of Import Projects.) As curator for the 5th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, he is finally getting a chance to flex his knowledge of post-Soviet art since writing his Ph.D. dissertation “Between the Gulag and the Guggenheim” at the Courtauld Institute of Art. The artist list for the main section of his forthcoming edition of the biennial, titled “Deep Inside,” includes up-and-coming artists Paul Kneale and Marguerite Humeau, but is also chock-full of many promising names waiting to make their mark on the international art scene.

Cameroonian independent curator and biotechnologist Ndikung opened the art “laboratory of form-ideas,” SAVVY Contemporary, in 2010 to further dialogues about the North-South cultural divide with exhibitions focused on post-colonial, anthropological, and socio-psychological studies. He is known best for organizing multi-dimensional and satellite projects such as “If You Are So Smart, Why Ain’t You Rich?” during the 2014 Marrakech Biennial, or the exhibition “Giving Contours to Shadows,” which brought together artists such as Neïl Beloufa, Otobong Nkanga, and Hank Willis Thomas, in Berlin, Lagos, Dakar, Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Marrakech. Working as a curator at large for the forthcoming Documenta 14, which is premiering for the first time in two cities—Kassel and Athens—in the spring of 2017, Ndikung is contributing his knowledge on performativity and how sound impacts spaces and subjectivities. He and co-curator Solvej Helweg Ovesen will also mount “An Age of Our Own Making” for Images, a biennial of contemporary art from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, opening this spring in Denmark.

Post-humanism, post-capitalism, feminism, and quality of life in post-digital society are all hot topics for curator, researcher, and publisher Farkas. As founding director of the progressive London gallery and project space Arcadia Missa, she has premiered shows with vanguard artists like Hannah Black and Jesse Darling, and coordinates exchanges with other young galleries including Queer Thoughts. Farkas is a regular speaker and organizer on the symposium circuit, and her conference at the Showroom and the ICA London yielded the substantive publication Re-Materialising Feminism. Her next exhibition, “Ways of Living,” co-curated with Zhoe Granger for DRAF in London, looks at artist practices outside the gallery—in society and in their homes—where artists Eva Hesse, Peter Hujar, and Juliana Huxtable will be featured.

Independent curator Üstek is best known for her 2015 project, “fig-2,” in which she revived curators Mark Francis and Jay Jopling’s 2000 pop-up exhibition exercise, “fig-1,” exhibiting 50 solo artists in sequence over 50 weeks. Functioning in the same spirit, Üstek’s high-octane series of commission-based projects showed a continuous turnover of exhibitions by 60 artists (some collaborations) over the course of 50 weeks. Including the likes of Allison Katz, Eva Rothschild and Joe Moran, and FOS, “fig-2” provided a hotbed for creative experimentation and a revitalizing embrace of uncertainty and risk-taking in the London art world. For Üstek, “‘fig-2’ became a playground for ideas, surveying the urgencies, desires, and currencies of our contemporary moment. It responded to a big need, especially in London, where there is a rigid institutionalism and categorization of art and how it should be used, experienced, what it should look like, and feel like.”

Michael Novotný is an essentialist when it comes to valuing art—using the exhibition format as an atmospheric stage and focusing his energy on commissioning two artists at a time to create parallel solo projects. For the past five years, he has worked with the Prague nonprofit space FUTURA, hosting exhibitions with international and local artists like Constant Dullaart, Anna Daučíková, Karina Bisch, and a two-person show of works by Harun Farocki and Zbyněk Baladrán, which was organized before Farocki’s passing in 2014. Next up at FUTURA are two solo exhibitions organized as a collective project by Thomas Jeppe and Kasia Fudakowski.

The fictions underpinning power structures, cultural hegemonies, and sovereignty lay the groundwork for Ballet’s exhibitions. Highlighting the need for more social responsibility in the arts, she states, “I think curators are important in defining [an] attitude, which is something that starts with ourselves.” Ballet’s politics are laid bare in a four-part series, “Our Ocean, Your Horizon,” analyzing the ocean as a non-sovereign space, which nonetheless is an essential playing field for displays of military might and the exercise of global trade, with solo presentations by artists Edgardo Aragón, Guan Xiao, Patrick Bernier & Olive Martin, and Basim Magdy. Ballet spent the last few years working as a research curator on “After Year Zero: Geographies of Collaboration Since 1945,” working under the guidance of Anselm Franke, and also curated the 2015 edition of Brussels Cologne Contemporaries. She is currently preparing her next group show for the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius, Lithuania, under the working title “The Morality Reflex,” questioning morals tied to elitism and exclusion.

For each of their exhibitions, young curatorial duo KM Temporaer make a point of inviting a third voice or “actor” to participate. Questioning modes of co-authorship is a focal point of their work ethic. And for KM Temporaer, collaborative working methods are foregrounded in their exhibitions as much as the themes, artworks, and artists they deal with. They hope to challenge the boundaries of their own practice in the same way contemporary artists they admire “operate on the margins of the concept of art.” Their current exhibition “I Pledge Allegiance” at On Stellar Rays in New York features a group of boundary-pushing artists, including Kerstin Brätsch, Debo Eilers, Nic Xedro, Jonas Lipps, and Caroline Mesquita, dealing with representation, artistic subjectivity, and authorship. Upcoming projects include a show at Galerie Bernhard in Zurich this fall and the forthcoming publication for their exhibition “Grand Opening Reception” that treats the book itself as an exhibition.

As director of Rupert Centre for Arts and Education since 2014, Jonutytė has focused her attention on offsetting disparities for exhibiting local and international artists in the region, with a particular focus on closing the disparity between exhibitions by male and female artists. “I think it is very important to support women artists in the field, especially mothers, as it is more difficult for them to travel and have an international career,” she says, citing her experience working with a pregnant Laure Prouvost in preparation for the artist’s 2015 exhibition. (Other female artists she’s proudly curated into the program include Dora Garcia and Lia Perjovschi.) Currently, Jonutytė is working on a new performance and site-specific installation with Lithuanian artists Lina Lapelyte and Augustas Serapinas for a summer show at Oslo’s artist-run space 1857. She’s also working toward a fall exhibition at Rupert with artist and writer Travis Jeppesen and a production of a new play written by Jason Dodge and Matthew Dickman that will be developed during their forthcoming residency with the institution and shown in 2017.

Gritz is pushing the field of film and performance forward by rethinking formats for presenting time-based work. “Performance and event-based works are especially fertile grounds for disclosing the production of identities as actions, encounters, and events, instead of fixed entities,” she says of her focus, which most recently manifested itself in the exhibition “Duh? Art & Stupidity,” co-curated with Paul Clinton for Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea. Gritz helped commission and curate film sections for the OPEN SOURCE contemporary arts festival in East London and the Material Art Fair in Mexico City. In the past year, she left her mark as curator of film & performance at South London Gallery, with exhibitions featuring Michael Smith, Becky Beasley, and Kapwani Kiwanga, before transplanting to Berlin to curate for the Schinkel Pavillon, where she will open her first show during Gallery Weekend, a collaboration between artists Adam Linder and Shahryar Nashat.

Mugaas helped found Kunsthall Stavanger in 2013, and has since hosted a colorful lineup of local and international contemporary artists—Nicolas Party, Tamara Henderson, and Olaf Breuning among them, making the institution a bright spot on the Scandinavian art map. According to Mugaas, her personal mission as a curator is “to look back at what and who might have been overlooked in the past. This often tends to be work by female artists.” In this spirit, under her direction, the institution has hosted an exhibition on Norwegian art and feminism from 1968–1989, as well as a retrospective with local female artist Inger Bruun. Currently, Mugaas is editing a publication about Judith Bernstein’s work from 1960—now in collaboration with Mousse Publishing—and planning future exhibitions with Sascha Braunig, Jessica Warboys, Morten Norbye Halvorsen, and Alex Bag.

“We should forget that art is an isolated thing,” says Gygax, curator of the Migros Museum, who recently completed his Ph.D. from the University of Berne. Alongside preparations for Frieze London 2016, where he’s been appointed as the new curator of Frieze Projects, Gygax is researching the plasticity of the brain—a concept in line with his current exhibition at the Migros Museum, which spotlights the work of Ian Cheng, a former student of cognitive science. For Gygax, breaking down categories with daring exhibitions is what invigorates and inspires him most. “I love to combine different fields; art and theatre, art and performance, fashion, design, science, etc.,” he says. The curator sees history as an ongoing process that is malleable, and as such makes a point to place historical figures in new contexts. “Sacré 101—An Exhibition Based on The Rite of Spring” (which is based on Igor Stravinsky’s ballet) and his recent retrospective of multidisciplinary Bauhaus artist Xanti Schawinsky are exemplary in this regard.

Artist careers don’t launch themselves—it requires an audience who believes in the work. And at contemporary salon SALTS, Swiss curator and director Leuenberger presents solo and group shows by young international artists—like Peles Empire, Sol Calero, and Emanuel Röhss—offering support for ambitious projects at early stages of artists’ careers. For Leuenberger, SALTS functions like a conceptual laboratory: “I rely on the artists’ visions and trust their work, this way we can achieve something new together,” he says. His sharp eye for targeting young talent caught the attention of fair organizers in Basel, who brought him on board last July as the new curator of Art Basel Parcours. Other upcoming projects include a show at Thun Ceramic Residency in Bozen, Italy, exhibitions of Flaka Haliti and Hagar Schmidhalter at SALTS, and a guest-curating spot at David Dale Gallery in Glasgow in September.

French-born independent curator Boukobza helms the residency program of the art research project 89plus at the Lab of the Google Cultural Institute in Paris—under the auspices of Simon Castets and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. (She refers to the duo as “SCHUO”.) Young artists, architects, and graphic designers are invited to use the Google Art Project archives, work with technologies like 3D printers and interactive screens, and learn from Google engineers. As part of her role at 89plus, Boukobza contributes to development of larger exhibitions such as “CO-WORKERS—Network as Artists” at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, outlining artists’ relationships to “The Internet of Things” and “Ambient Intelligence,” while continuing independent projects like “Mon Horizontalité” at Galerie Untilthen, bringing together artists like Anthea Hamilton, Torbjørn Rødland, and Simone Fattal.

Think the internet has taken over our minds? Well, so does Sielewicz, curator of the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, who’s trying to figure out what to do about the massive hangover our internet addictions are causing. She achieved this with her recent survey exhibition “Private Settings. Art After the Internet,” which included DIS, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Harm van den Dorpel, and Hannah Perry. Sielewicz also curates experimental film, performance, and discursive events for the museum and will co-run an experimental pop-up space in Warsaw under the auspices of the museum. Currently, she’s most interested in shifting self-perception, how we define status, and the attention economy. As she explains, “The art world today is very much shaped by affect and presence, and online hyper-sociality has had a profound effect on artists and art consumers.”

According to Ayas, director of Rotterdam’s Witte de With, public programs are critical to her mission at the institution. “My program involves artists but as much so lawyers, economists, journalists, archaeologists, theologians, philosophers, and novelists who proactively engage with the various faces of crisis today, including all new forms of activism spurring the world,” she says. In 2015, Ayas organized an extensive three-part exhibition series, “Art In The Age Of...,” investigating the future of art production, the circulation of art and its infrastructure, and covering topics from energy and raw materials to asymmetric warfare and planetary computation. In honor of Witte de With’s recent 25th anniversary, Ayas has tapped Rotterdam-based artist duo Bik Van der Pol, whose May exhibition, “WERE IT AS IF,” will rethink the politics of the cultural institution, and the artist’s role in relationship to the institution as container and producer of knowledge.

Vickers is leading the charge when it comes to employing progressive digital communication systems and alternative models for community engagement. In 2014, he co-initiated the tech idealist project unMonastery, “a social clinic for the future” founded in Matera, Italy. Last fall, Vickers launched Serpentine Radio for broadcasting the “Transformation Marathon” in his role as Curator of Digital for the Serpentine Galleries, where he spearheads Digital Commissions. And in the beginning of 2016, he co-curated the talks program on post-digital culture for the Transmediale. Describing his curatorial approach, Vickers states, I am interested in how emergent identities, roles, and strict work-based rule-sets can be adopted to transform the way in which we live and act in the world.” Combining his interest in technology and social interaction, Vickers is working on a digital commission with Ian Cheng titled Bad Corgi (2016)—a new mindfulness app, launching April 4th on the Serpentine Galleries’ website. Planning is also well underway for the next digital commission of artist James Bridle.

Durmuşoğlu is crisscrossing the globe, drawing unexpected relationships between different “circles of thought.” After contributing to Public Programs for dOCUMENTA (13), she went on to participate in several research networks at the nomadic incubator The Moving Museum Istanbul. Durmuşoğlu has also participated in the Goethe-Institute’s initiative “Museal Episode” that focused on the future of museums as well as the “Critical Writing Ensemble” led by OCA and the Dhaka Art Summit. Durmuşoğlu is committed to using the gallery as “a space for envisioning roles of learning and unlearning.” The approach is evident in her current shows, such as Pilvi Takala’s contribution to the public video art project YAMA, the Kunstverein Langenhagen’s “In Search of Radical Incomplete #3: Black Hole Hunters,” which features artists Alexandra Navratil and Susanne M. Winterling, and the upcoming solo exhibition of older female artist Gülsün Karamustafa at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.

Gruijthuijsen co-founded Amsterdam’s Kunstverein in 2009 before moving on to serve as the artistic director of the Grazer Kunstverein in Austria in 2012. In July, the Dutch curator will again shift posts to become director of Berlin’s KW Institute of Contemporary Art. Evidenced by his 2015 exhibition of work by David Wojnarowicz and Robert Blanchon, or the overview of Lisa Oppenheim’s most recent decade of production (2004-2014)—both curated for Grazer Kunstverein—Gruijthuijsen’s interest lies in the political and social implications surrounding an artist’s practice, which can range from the directness of AIDS activism to more abstract topics surrounding fiction, history, and encyclopedic knowledge. “I am drawn to questions around representation, intentionality, and authenticity that form the base for talking about poignant personal, social, and political matters,” says Gruijthuijsen. Before making the move to the German capital, he will close out his time in Graz with projects by Peter Friedl and a two-person exhibition with Kay Rosen and Matt Keegan.

Pairing “practice and theory” is how Folkerts describes his approach. He worked as coordinator of the Curatorial Programme at de Appel arts centre before taking on the position of curator of performance, film, and discursive programs at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Since being invited by artistic director Adam Szymczyk to join the curatorial team for Documenta 14, Folkerts has exclusively devoted his time to conducting research trips, site visits, and initiating conversations between artists and fellow colleagues, to develop what he calls an “ensemble of thought.” More specifically, he is lending his expertise of temporal/ephemeral, and non-material qualities of performance to broaden definitions of the exhibition format.

—Arielle Bier

Artsy Editorial