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Exhibition Histories Through the Shared Art of Memory

Introduction to the twelfth title in the Exhibition  Histories Series, Art and its Worlds: Exhibitions, Institutions and Art Becoming Public, by Lucy Steeds, David Morris, Charles Esche and Bo Choy

The title of this text draws on a mantra we have learnt from Chimurenga: ‘History is the science of the state, while memory is the art of the stateless.’ 01 In what ensues here, we reflect on our work in the name of exhibition histories for contemporary art, while acknowledging that what we have always named with these words and what we now mean, different from before, are not universal. This acknowledgement is performed, perhaps, by the work of many that is anthologised in Art and its Worlds: Exhibitions, Institutions and Art Becoming Public. Given that we care for art beyond ownership – for art as belonging to whatever and whomever it convenes in any particular place, for any particular duration – then our commitment in this book is to sharing art, on that basis, further and wider.

The bulk of Art and its Worlds is constituted by essays published in Afterall journal between 2007 (issue 15) and 2019 (issue 44), precisely coinciding with the first ten books in the publication series Exhibition Histories, to which the present book forms the twelfth volume. Indeed, there is more than coincidence: the eighteen such essays republished here, on the one hand, and the ten books produced alongside, on the other, arise from research concerns nurtured by overlapping teams throughout that period. We here also revisit online articles and public discussions we previously initiated, while presenting newly commissioned contributions from long-standing and more recent interlocutors, each with a distinct approach.

In assembling the selection here, we decided to focus on contemporary art and its worlds since the late 1980s or early 1990s. Processes of social and political upheaval at this moment within Europe have lent the year 1989 a particular symbolism – although this is certainly not the only story to be told and no such precise date can be given to the Cold War ending, the internet emerging or capitalism spreading and mutating.02  It is true that the artistic responses to this period of change around the world were not immediately abundant, notably in modern art’s Western heartlands, although we stand by the significance, in terms of sampling the complexity of the changes, of certain exhibitions that took place in 1989. 03 Certainly, we hope that more of the diversity or pluriversality of exhibition practices in the past three decades or so is reflected in the multifarious work with text and image that follows.

The selection seeks to interconnect disparate moments of making art public while being attuned to potential reverberations; it tries to indicate the field’s manifold variety, to jointly articulate what might be at stake in art’s becoming public before now, for now. If an exhibition is an enfolding of collective experience and discursive activity enabled by artworks, which operates most powerfully through pooling a sense of authorship, then we see our task as stepping in to extend something of its earlier significance to other places and times. If art relies on a show, or showing, to come to life, then the exhibition similarly refuses self-sufficiency, relying on its social, political and economic context and contingencies (the land and the weather) to determine its vitality and sustainability (onwards germination). In this way, art is subject to a world that surrounds it and, if it moves around, the worlds proliferate. These are only tangentially connected to an apocryphal ‘art world’, a phenomenon that is itself increasingly shifting and multiplying, according to the criteria of hard commercial value and contested cultural value. The title ‘art and its worlds’ is an attempt to recognise a wider and more permissive field of activity, in which the makers and users of art have a certain agency but are always also subject to the where, when, how and why of their positions.

In this introduction we offer a short retrospective description of our practices to date. We then go into how our books have both shaped and been shaped by these practices. Third and finally, we speculate on what this might mean now, if not exactly where we might head together next. As our study of exhibition histories and art becoming public has matured, we have become less interested in marking boundaries around art, exhibitions, institutions, publics and worlds. Encouraged by each other’s curiosity – and hopefully by yours – we would like to open up overlapping possibilities and permeable positions.

1.    Exhibition Histories: An Evolving Research Concern

Under the banner of Exhibition Histories for contemporary art we have sought, with colleagues for the last fifteen years, to sustain a growing field of research and enquiry. The book series of this name is probably the most tangible outcome of our endeavours, which more broadly strive to counter the neoliberal imperatives that marketise the art, research and education in our lives, insisting on the commodificated production of objects, outputs and qualifications, which we resist. To this end, it seems important to clarify that our books emerge – are trialled and developed – in the context of teaching situations and symposia. 04  Art historians and curators – alongside artists, theorists, designers and those merging or refusing these and other categories – have all contributed powerfully to our classes, public discussions and publications. We hope this field-in-becoming of exhibition histories can be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary all at the same time, and it feels precious for that reason. 05  Certainly, we seek to inhabit the field with increasing plurality and fluidity. We enjoy sharing it: we value that at its core is an activity of publicness that involves a holding in common, where different interpretations build the discourse and inform the practice for everyone who is interested to be involved. This is also why we have adjusted the banner for our studying to Art Becoming Public, while retaining Exhibition Histories for the series of publications. 06

The research questions that we currently start out with might be phrased in various ways. How is the becoming public of art – which is of its time, but in the past – relevant for a distributed ‘here’, in the present ‘now’? How can we engage cultural entanglements today through the study and exploration of the public life of art – for instance, its affective, discursive, social and political agency – in previous conjunctures? How can the conjuring, mobilising and questioning of worlds that were once achieved when art resonated within a historical situation address a wider context now? How may we extend, revisit or open back up a former durational field for works of contemporary art, in order to invite in people from new places and times to reshape meanings in the present? We feel passionately about the possibility for exhibition histories to be geo-politically open and anti-imperialist. This is a fragile possibility, of course, and one that requires sensitive nurturing through anti-hegemonic acts in relation to what has come before: challenging dominant art historical narratives by shifting what is paid attention to and rethinking how; destabilising familiar triumphalism through amplifying alternative resonances.

In the absence of a preferred, disciplinary regime, the methods and indeed methodologies of exhibition histories are to be inspired by the perceived needs of whatever is selected for study. In other words, the theories and practices used within the field work best, we believe, when responding to what they are particularly focussed on. To elaborate this, albeit somewhat simplistically, the modes of approach suited to a relatively recent edition of a long-standing and ongoing biennial in a wealthy nation, for instance, will ill serve the unsubsidised initiatives of a disbanded collective who have worked aside from the markets for art and are no longer in situ. This highlights, perhaps, that the definition of ‘exhibition’ is as productively uncircumscribed as the meaning of ‘art’ and ‘publics’. 07 Nevertheless, we are committed to publics (viewers, visitors, users, audiences, receivers, participants, etc.) as being both plural and temporally united – and, on this basis, exhibitions are neither one thing nor preservable: their life is defined by the durational field instigated by art in a given context. As such, exhibition histories should always reflect on a missing physical experience and be aware of the paradoxes of revisiting its legacy in terms of discursivity, transience and pastness, regardless of the chosen locus of study. At the same time, the relevance of that focus, and its choice before others, should be articulated and/or activated, in particular.

The ‘histories’, plural, of ‘exhibition histories’ marks the multiple intersecting realities prompted by any single show. Of course, history is always embodied when lived and then disputed when written, but there is something about exhibitions – their public eventhood, we might say – that demands a polyvocal account. As already indicated, we oppose History’s imperial claims upon The Future, and the associated modern and modernist logic of innovation through creative destruction. The plurality of ‘histories’ further indicates mediation via varying conditions now: from contingent standpoints, looking back. On both counts, uncertainty will be to the fore in what is produced; the aim being to achieve an enabling complexity without a disabling confusion, inviting engagement and effective repositioning in response. Perhaps ‘histories’, in the plural, also suggests the doing of history. This means referring to historical – or merely ‘past’ – events for the purposes of reanimation, for a marshalling now to distinct ends. While refusing the master discipline of History, however, exhibition histories is not without discipline, if only in the sense that declared facts can be adjusted in light of more convincing ‘evidence’, nor is it lacking in disciplines, in that values may be disputed and ranked among different constituencies against differing criteria. Perhaps this is just us upholding the involvement of scholarly labour: studious care, with an attendant role for playfulness and a collegiality that rejects elitism. Accordingly, thinking is to be demonstrated; learning, insights and imagination to be shared. Whatever traditions are passed on generationally, there is at best an aliveness – intellectually and creatively – to matters in a situated present. There is an engagement with the ‘real world’ while exercising ‘academic freedom’ in relation to it.

However, we are perhaps now at risk of saying rather than showing. To make these proclaimed ideals concrete, we will turn to how we have striven for all this in the Exhibition Histories book series. In some ways, we seek to rethink what exhibition histories might be every time we make a book. Since we have deliberately found our way forwards through practice, rather than working fixedly from an initial plan, this current text, written together, amounts to a taking stock.

2.    Exhibition Histories: Our Books

When we say ‘our’ with regards to the Exhibition Histories books, there are various communities invoked: those involved in instigating the research and publishing project, back in 2007; those who work, or have worked, on this project in the London production office; 08  specific collaborative partners at institutions on three continents; 09  and our many contributors, some of whom have transformed our thinking and remained part of us even after the book they have shaped is finalised. We cannot reliably speak for everyone who has played a role in the books, of course, but our point is to emphasise that this is fundamentally a communal project with evolving mutual responsibility for and use of what has been produced.

There have been eleven books in the Exhibition Histories series prior to this one, published annually since 2010. Each of these books takes an issue in art becoming public that seems engaging to us. It examines this issue through study of a past exhibition, or a pair or cluster of shows, involving art that is contemporary to that given moment in time. To date, we have looked back as far as 1957 (which stretched our interest in living memory) and as recently as 2000. Our books have zoomed in on art events in: Amsterdam/Bern, Chiang Mai, Chicago, Havana, Lagos, Moscow, Newcastle/London, Paris, São Paulo and Shanghai – and an evolving US project that took in Vancouver and Buenos Aires. We have an ongoing concern to decentralise situations for art in the West, First World or Global North, yet work predominantly within the English language and thus cannot escape privileging Anglo-American and associated readerships.

Our books do not imagine eternal or universal relevance for the case studies they foreground. Each book is crafted and received in its own moment, addressing particular constituencies and seeking its own durational field, perhaps. We do not propose a map of ‘landmark’ shows around the globe, to be preserved and defended, and we rarely know which project will be the subject of the next study until it is already begun. If asked about a ‘global canon’ of exhibitions, we would venture that this exists only on the understanding that everyone constantly fashions (or ignores) their own. The politics of nationhood and associated exclusionary operations have taught us to be wary of presuming we can ever get close to sampling or representing. So, how do we pick the exhibitions we choose to study? Only on the basis of ongoing discussions with an unconstituted group of interlocutors, often through public seminars and always with the anguish of knowing we are condemned to negligence, but in tandem with the hope of learning something useful for the next book. Moreover, the factual multiplicity of shows can always be emphasised, with cross-referencing used to insist that no one project is unimpeachable or worth considering in isolation.

All our books up until now have included two key elements – revisitation and polyvocality. Revisitation requires us to have access to images, texts, witnesses, accounts or memories that will enable collective study. Each book is then plurally authored, bringing together archival and reminiscent material with newly commissioned essays, interviews and design. Space is given to curatorial and organisational intention or recollection, but equally to artistic positioning and to appraisal from independent perspectives. The polyvocality of each book insists on the many who experienced an exhibition, or might engage with it now, and on the plurality of those producing it. A dispersed agency is assumed in production and reception and through their chiasmus.

The ambition to revisit the exhibitionary events we publish books about, and to do this on the pages of these books, is a more mercurial proposition, which we have come to realise needs to take different form each time and will always, in some senses, fail. A map, documentary images, a verbalised tour or photographic ‘walk-through’, may be possible and useful in some instances, but not all. 10 The broader insufficiency – or inevitable failure to offer actual access to the past – is a challenge we have come to embrace. The desire to do justice to the complex phenomena of a former encounter between artworks and publics is indeed a desire, not compelled by law, and so to be explored playfully as well as seriously. Perhaps we mean ‘be faithful’ rather than ‘do justice’? We usually have photographic and other extant material to work with and many people to consult. Through careful study, critical proximity, time spent seeking testimony and time spent with this testimony, we seek to clarify where there are indications that complicate received opinions. 11 Like the translator of a novel, poem or playscript who is working between languages with the dual imperatives of fidelity and felicity, we develop an intense relationship to a remote original and simultaneously to imagine new audiences. When the sincerity of adequate representation weighs heavily, reviewing the significances in the present offers refreshed direction, reminding us what spirits of the past might need in order to feel invited to animate matters again today. Ways of using images and words – and working with them on the printed page – have to be found in order to conjure up events from traces, making them available for discussion now. 12  This latter in particular is why we moved away from the initial, formulaic design of the books to embrace eclecticism led by appropriateness.

We want to flick through particular books with you now, drawing out some other features of our approach to exhibition histories.

First, when studying art shows that are well celebrated – canonised, for instance, within long-established curatorial courses – we have sought to complicate the achievements hailed and to foreground other exhibitions that have been occluded by that canon. On this basis, when we tackled ‘When Attitudes Become Form’, we did so in tandem with ‘Op Losse Schroeven’: if the former notoriously opened up, in 1969, the traditional exhibition space at the Kunsthalle Bern to improvisation in situ by West European and US artists (and, on this basis, is often assigned a nascent role in relation to the lauded curatorial personage of Harald Szeemann), then the latter, overlappingly initiated by Wim Beeren at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam has been marginalised by comparison. 13  We followed that European, masculine pairing with a book dedicated to the related conceptual art exhibitions organised by Lucy Lippard, specifically elaborating a political trajectory marked by her move into feminism. 14  Differently seeking to destabilise a solidifying canon or curriculum of ‘landmark shows’, we published paired books that jointly reflected on a topic – the ‘global’ or ‘worldwide’ curation of contemporary art – from distinct geo-political perspectives but at the same moment in time, 1989. 15 One exhibition, ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ in Paris, was arguably overexposed when our book came out, with homage and vilification deeply entrenched in opposing camps (hence begging re-examination from new positions); while the other initiative, the third Bienal de la Habana, was then rarely discussed in the same circles, yet brought new light to bear. Publishing on the ‘other’ exhibition initiative, the Cuban biennial, first – before ‘Part 2’ on ‘Magiciens’ – was important to us.

A second strand of our book series has involved challenging our understandings of what an exhibition might be. For instance, for one book we focussed on a gallery installation that is usually discussed as a unified artwork, not as an inhabited show. 16  Several books reconsidered projects that did not rely on gallery space in order to engage publics with art, with the scattered-site and dispersed temporalities of ‘Culture in Action’ in Chicago in 1993, 17 comparable in that regard with the otherwise distinct initiatives of Chiang Mai Social Installation (CMSI) in northern Thailand from 1992–98. 18  A book on the APTART ‘anti-shows’ in a Moscow flat late in the Soviet era allowed us to question the very status of ‘publics’ in relation to art, when those gathered come together in defiance of state sanction – a situation that resonates more and more with the politics of the current time. 19  Our subsequent publication – marking the first decade of the series – put in question the very status of ‘art’ and ‘exhibition’ in relation to publics via FESTAC in Lagos in 1977, a self-proclaimed ‘festival of arts and culture’; 20  in this context, gallery-style visual arts exhibitions were only a small component, in amongst formal and informal music, theatre and literature gatherings and much else. Yet we understood the month-long mega event to be suggestive of a whole panoply of artistic practice, exemplary precisely because of its capacity to convene multitudinous publics.

Implicit in this second strand of our Exhibition Histories publishing is a concern to credit the work not only of professional exhibition-makers or curators – with Mary Jane Jacob or Gerardo Mosquera as worthy of celebration as Lippard or Szeemann, for instance – but also to acknowledge the equal achievements of those who operated primarily as artists, for instance in Chiang Mai, or who were mobilised (often outside of defined roles) by state-led initiatives such as FESTAC. The collective agency, or dispersal of responsibility, that characterises these less curatorially authored endeavours is of active interest to us.

Thirdly, we have learnt to work more openly and collaboratively in producing books in the Exhibition Histories series. Our first step was to invite those expert in the case studies at issue not just to make a discrete contribution but to inform the overall editorial process – co-determining the content and texture – for that particular book. In this way, Lisette Lagnado guided our response to the ‘anthropophagy biennial’ in São Paulo in 1998 and David Teh shaped the book on the Chiang Mai festivals of the mid 1990s. More recently we have collaborated with partner outfits that bring many years of concerted work to bear. We celebrated our tenth volume in the series by joining forces with Chimurenga to produce the bespoke publication in which they advance their ongoing exploration of FESTAC’s imaginaries. Learning from this, we freed the next books from elements of conformity that we had (sometimes inadvertently) developed for ourselves and happily now allow ourselves to trial new models. Increasingly, each book is written and illustrated, assembled and designed, in a way that responds to the exhibitionary events at issue. Last year’s book was the first entirely born of our institutional partnership with Asia Art Archive, drawing on their specific resources – materials, expertise and relationships – to jointly consider contemporary art shows staged in Shanghai in 2000. 21

Our two most recent publications – centred respectively on Lagos in 1977 and Shanghai in 2000 – might be said to revisit the ‘global’ or ‘worldwide’ curation of contemporary art as we previously addressed it through the lens of Paris and Havana in 1989, and indeed also via São Paulo in 1998. This may be identified as a fourth strand of our ongoing work in the field of exhibition histories, 22 and it recognises the fundamentally localised claims to globalism or worldliness. 23  At the same time, we concern ourselves with more avowedly local initiatives, while selecting these for their potential translocal, transnational and transcontinental resonances.

Increasingly, through our partners and interlocuters, we have come to acknowledge the problem of our anchorage in London, with its dominant narrative of British exceptionalism. The focus and commissioning of future books, we realise, must be an even more determinedly collective task. Certainly, we feel strongly that, even within our ongoing book series, exhibition histories may take myriad forms – or rather, exhibition histories must in the effort to respond appropriately to the particularity and complexity of art’s exposure. Yet, we are also adamant that no one publisher can own or control the field on this basis, for it is the pluralised and distributed nature of field formation – involving independent activity, like that of Chimurenga in Cape Town or Huakan in Beijing, 24 with which we may cross pollinate – that ensures the vitality.

3.    From Exhibition Histories to Art Becoming Public and Back Again

We have discussed moving out from the under the umbrella of ‘exhibition histories’ many times in recent years. To summarise rather coarsely what we have heard, prompting our debates, there are two camps. From one side we hear those not keen to loosen their grasp on what an exhibition might be and how it might operate. Their insistence on tying ‘exhibition’ to display in the museum, gallery, biennial or art fair seems a way to orientate themselves – which might be justified, though we sometimes find it too demanding of curatorial privilege, or of leaning hubristically on ‘the curatorial’. Many in this camp seem to be similarly fixed in their grip of what history – also an artist, or a curator – is or does. Yet the relative valency of these terms, for different proponents, is interestingly contrasting: compare an artistic conservative who may be powerfully pro the exhibition and history as narrowly understood through traditions rooted in Europe, with someone committed to the rhetorics of ‘the curatorial’ who may be powerfully contra the same. Simultaneously, there is another camp, distinct from the positions just outlined, which has very little intellectual, creative or emotional investment in any of this language – although their particular concerns and practices are just as pertinent to the field for us as exhibitions understood by those in the first camp. So, in sum, it is not only mindful of the inadequacies of terminology that we persist with exhibition histories, but in the hope of steering a course that brings more people together – from all camps and, for instance, across generations, geopolitics, class or caste – on the basis of curiosity about art and its sociocultural potential.

For us, there are as many overlaps as discrepancies, with work that is pursued under terms such as ‘art history’ and ‘cultural history’; ‘curatorial studies’, ‘museum studies’ and ‘cultural studies’; ‘anthropology’ and ‘area studies’; ‘artistic’, ‘curatorial’ and ‘cultural practice’. 25  We celebrate the dialogue and ricochets between these approaches, finding brilliant inspiration as well as interesting problems. We most often sense problems if art production and curating – and discussion of these practices – risk overshadowing the work of exhibition.

As may be obvious just from this text, we have consistently referenced this ‘work’ of art’s exhibition as that of becoming public. As we contemplate the possibility of another decade of research and publishing in the name of exhibition histories, we wish to foreground the becoming public of art still more. So, how to move that centre stage, to dilate or amplify it? To attempt an answer, we will draw on Fred Moten’s writing from 2016, about an exhibition curated by Charles Gaines in Los Angeles in 1993, ‘The Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism’. 26 Moten first notes that ‘the blur of spirit admits of no personhood’, before drawing an analogy to art and its ‘constant violation of the artist, the viewer and the work that is the mobile location of their entangled differentiation’.  We suggest taking this up and seeing art as a constant violation of the artist, the curator, the viewer and all other agents open to its – and their own – exposure. On this basis, we see the exhibition as the ‘mobile location of the entangled differentiation’ of art’s producers and its publics. The task of exhibition histories, for us, is then the material, embodied and political practice that, through the ‘blur of spirit’, invites a new location for past art, bringing it into the present for what is to come.


  • Wendell Marsh, ‘Re-Membering the Name of God’, Chimurenga Chronic, 19 March 2015. Quoted in, for instance, Ntone Edjabe, ‘How to Eat a Forest’, in this volume. See also ‘Performing Pan-Africanism: Ntone Edjabe in Conversation with David Morris’, in Paul O’Neill, Simon Sheikh, Lucy Steeds and Mick Wilson (ed.), Curating after the Global, Roadmaps for the Present, London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019, pp.273–91.
  • On the significance of 1989, see Charles Esche and Maria Hlavajova, ‘FORMER WEST: Introductory Notes’, 5 November 2009, available at Events beyond the North Atlantic, including the fall of military governments in various parts of Latin America, or the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, suggest a wider transitional time frame; moreover, an acknowledgement of multiple temporalities recommends against any such reading of events according to any teleology.
  • See ‘Exhibitions and the World at Large’, hosted by Afterall and TrAIN (both of University of the Arts London) at Tate Britain, 3 April 2009. See also the ensuing books 2 and 4 in the Exhibition Histories series (see n.15) and ‘The “Other Story”, 1989’.
  • The Exhibition Histories books complement and are complemented by a research-based masters course in Art: Exhibition Studies and by disparate doctoral projects each defined by the students leading them, all based at Central Saint Martins, a college of University of the Arts London (UAL). The external partners on the books (see n.9) all have their own, also complementary, educational remits. Many books have further been shaped through public symposia and open editorial meetings, hosted by disparate generous collaborators.
  • On the ‘indiscipline’ of exhibition histories, see L. Steeds, ‘What is the Future of Exhibition Histories? Or, Toward Art in Terms of Its Becoming-Public’, in P. O’Neill, L. Steeds and M. Wilson (ed.), The Curatorial Conundrum: What to Study? What to Research? What to Practice?, London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016, p.17. If the hope in that essay was to repurpose the curatorial rhetoric of ‘indiscipline’ and the ‘undisciplined’ after Okwui Enwezor and Irit Rogoff (see, for instance, O. Enwezor, ‘Documentary/Vérité: Bio-Politics, Human Rights and the Figure of “Truth” in Contemporary Art’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, vol.5, no.1, 2004, pp.11–42), then we are now more indebted to the thinking of Yaiza Hernández Velázquez, who has flagged the danger – by ‘positioning ourselves a priori in this “undisciplined” terrain’ – of ‘remaining obdurately blind to our own academicism.’ See Y. Hernández Velázquez, introduction to her edited volume Inter/multi/cross/trans: The Uncertain Territory of Art Theory in the Age of Academic Capitalism, Vitoria: Montehermoso, 2011, p.188.
  • A philosophical discourse on the exhibition as such – a bid to grasp all public occasions for art within a unified ontology – does not interest us, as this would deny the lived and shifting, historical (and geo-political) nature of exhibitions as we see them. For eloquence on this and many issues relevant to the present essay, from someone more than capable when it comes to philosophy, see Y. Hernández Velázquez, ‘Who Needs “Exhibition Studies”?’, in this volume.
  • Afterall is based at Central Saint Martins, a college of UAL, and core funded by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation.
  • The collaborative partners on ‘Exhibition Histories’ are currently: Central Saint Martins, UAL; Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong; the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, Annandale-On-Hudson, New York; and the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, University of Gothenburg.
  • Maps and an illustrated ‘walk-through’ make most sense where there is a parcours or ‘red thread’ through an exhibition (while presupposing obedience to a dogmatic display mode). On one adjusted ‘revisitation’ mode that we have used in the Exhibition Histories series, see Lucy Steeds’s contribution ‘Return and/as Response: Minding the Memory of “an Exhibit”’ to a book on the methodologies of exhibition histories edited by Rike Frank and Beatrice von Bismarck: O(f)f Our Times: Curatorial Anachronics, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019. As live events contribute to art’s engagement with a public, such modes become more evidently wanting.
  • On testimony, forensics and yet a lack of neutrality – the rejection of empirical objectivity as an ambition – in our book series, see ‘Things After the Event: Publishing Exhibition Histories – Lucy Steeds in conversation with Beatrice von Bismarck and Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer’ in B. von Bismarck and Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer (ed.), Curatorial Things, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019, pp.325–333. The insights articulated there lean on those of Geeta Kapur as conveyed in panel 7 of ‘Showing, Telling, Seeing: Exhibiting South Asia in Britain 1900–Now’, 30 June and 1 July 2016, organised by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Asia Art Archive in collaboration with Tate Modern. Audio recording available at
  • The opportunities and challenges of producing exhibition histories online offer exciting alternatives, of course. We have only started to explore the possibilities ourselves, with this initial foray awaiting development.
  • Christian Rattemeyer et al., Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ 1969, London: Afterall Books, 2010. The idiomatic Dutch phrase ‘op losse schroeven’ literally means ‘on weak screws’, implying weak foundations or loose connections; it was not widely translated into English as an exhibition title at the time, although ‘Square Pegs in Round Holes’ was sometimes proffered.
  • Cornelia Butler et al., From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard’s Number’s Shows 1969-74, London: Afterall Books, 2012. Related New York initiatives that we neglected in this book include the exhibitionary activities of the collective ‘Where We At’ Black Women Artists, featured in the FESTAC book (see n.20), and Ana Mendieta, Kazuko Miyamoto and Zarina in ‘Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States’ at the A.I.R. Gallery, New York in 1980.
  • Rachel Weiss et al., Making Art Global (Part 1): The Third Havana Biennial 1989, London: Afterall Books, 2011. Lucy Steeds et al., Making Art Global (Part 2): ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ 1989, London: Afterall Books, 2013. On flagging some neglected context for the exhibitions covered in these paired volumes, see Anthony Gardner and Charles Green, ‘Biennials of the South on the Edges of the Global’, Third Text, vol.27, no.4, 2013, pp.442–55.
  • Elena Crippa and L. Steeds (ed.), Exhibition, Design, Participation: ‘an Exhibit’ 1957 and Related Projects, London: Afterall Books, 2016. For critical reflection on this book, see L. Steeds ‘Return and/as Response’, op. cit.
  • Joshua Decter and Helmut Draxler et al., Exhibition as Social Intervention: ‘Culture in Action’ 1993, London: Afterall Books, 2014.
  • David Teh and David Morris (ed.), Artist-to-Artist: Independent Art Festivals in Chiang Mai 1992–98, London: Afterall Books, 2018.
  • Margarita Tupitsyn, Victor Tupitsyn and D. Morris (ed.), Anti-Shows: APTART 1982–84, London: Afterall Books, 2017. For analysis of the expanded context in play here, see D. Morris, ‘Underground Museology: A Research Report’, in Centre for Experimental Museology, Almanac, No.1, Moscow: V–A–C Foundation, 2020 (in Russian) and forthcoming 2021 (in English).
  • FESTAC ’77: The 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and CultureDecomposed, an-arranged and reproduced by Chimurenga, Cape Town and London: Chimurenga and Afterall, 2019.
  • Uncooperative Contemporaries: Art Exhibitions in Shanghai in 2000, London: Afterall Books, 2020.
  • These four strands offer a somewhat alternative categorisation to the three sections of this book. The point here is that there are many ways of dividing up the same field, with no one way abiding. Likewise, the book sections that follow are not hard and fast, with a contribution positioned within one likely to sit as comfortably in another.
  • For reflection on this strand of our work, see Lucy’s introduction to ‘Section 2: Exhibition Histories’, in P. O’Neill, S. Sheikh, L. Steeds and M. Wilson (ed.), Curating after the Global, op. cit., pp.221–27.
  • See Mia Yu’s recent project on exhibition histories for Huakan (画刊, Art Monthly), 2021, and Panafest ’66’69’74’77 as hosted by Chimurenga online at
  • For various stances on the relationship to art history as recently discussed online, see ‘Why Exhibition Histories?’, available at; and ‘A história das exposições é a nova história da arte?’ (‘Is the history of the exhibitions the new history of art?’),
  • Fred Moten was invited to frame thoughts in response to ‘The Theater of Refusal’ for a public event at LAXART, Los Angeles in 2016. His paper was then published in the first volume of his trilogy consent not to be a single being (see n.27). Charles Gaines discussed ‘The Theater of Refusal’ in a 2019 talk for our Exhibition Histories series at Whitechapel Gallery, London with the support of the International Curator’s Forum.