“The Knowledge of the Curator”: The Experience of a Sponge in a Pressure-Cooker

by Daphne Verberg

How do you exhibit a prayer nut (a micro-carving the size of – you guessed it – a nut!) in the daily hustle and bustle of the Rijksmuseum? And how do you display fashion design whose tactility makes visitors want to reach out and touch it, although they are not allowed to? Or what are art lovers looking for when they gaze at a masterpiece? Do they want to know the personal stories of Marten en Oopjen or are they trying to comprehend the virtuosity of Rembrandt?

Last summer I participated in the summer school “The Knowledge of the Curator,” a week in which people from various countries, disciplines and interests came together to learn more about the knowledge of the curator. The versatility of both the participants and the lecturers resulted in a week filled with interesting discussions, conversations and clarifying ambitions. The week best compares to a pressure-cooker: a dense program full of lectures, museum visits (even the depot of GM), a conversation with an artist about her ongoing performance, private tours through the Rijksmuseum and discussions about hypothetical curatorial challenges.

The summer school, which came about in collaboration with tpicture-summerschool-02he Groninger Museum, touched upon many curatorial problems that only come to the surface when different art genres are part of the same institution, as is the case in the Groninger Museum. From fashion design to German painting and archaeological findings from the countryside of Groningen: every object tells its own story, but how much of this story do you take into account when making an exhibition?

This question seemed particularly pertinent during an assignment in the depots of the Groninger Museum. Objects that were picked randomly by the current curators of the Groninger Museum had to be combined into an exiting exhibition. How do you combine these objects? On what characteristics do you base your exhibition? And how much of the individual story that each object tells is important? An impossible task, because an ancient axe from 3000 BC and a contemporary design-ventilator simply do not combine well.



I was walking around like a sponge, trying to suck up the expertise from both the lecturers and participants. Everyone, I feel, had a chance to cooperate and learn from one another. The differences between the participants created a situation in which everybody was equally engaged, encouraged and challenged. The summer school proved to be a unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes impression of how the art practice functions both inside and outside the academic walls. I warmly recommend the summer school for everybody interested in the profession of curator.


Love is…

By Jakob Boer

In the autobiographical documentary Bezness as Usual, Dutch director Alex Pitstra (born Karim Alexander Ben Hassen), son to a Dutch mother and Tunisian father, tries to find his identity. The search leads him to his father’s dubious past as a playboy doing so-called ‘bezness’, a common phenomenon in popular tourist destinations where locals make a living of exploiting the desire for love and attention of wealthy Western tourists on their holidays. He investigates his parents’ failed marriage, examines his own relation to both his Swiss half-sister (from another of his dad’s European amorous adventures) and his father’s new family in Tunisia, and attempts to patch up the troubled relationship with his depressed mother who feels abandoned by Alex. These are only a few of the intriguing, intricately interwoven elements that constitute the plot of the film. Alex finds himself in the midst of clashing cultural values, such as love, family bonds, money, and loyalty, and desperately tries to reconcile these in an attempt to create some sense of unity.


Love is one such cultural value. Alex struggles to figure out his relationship to his father: does his father love him at all and if so, how is this love to be understood? He is afraid of being exploited, of being nothing more to his father than ‘bezness as usual’. Rather than love and support, Alex receives requests for financial aid to support a business adventure or a dentist appointment. However, we also come to discover that his father is equally disappointed in his son. He cannot understand why Alex is so reluctant to support him financially, because he assumes that his son is making money from the production of the documentary about him. So why wouldn’t he be entitled to some of it?

So, we can ask, who is exploiting who? But the question somewhat misses the point. It appears to me that the expectations of both the father and the son are based on cultural assumptions about this relationship and that the signs of distrust merely indicate their mutual misunderstanding of these assumptions.

When viewed from Alex’ viewpoint, we could conclude that his father’s decades-long absence and sudden predominantly financial interest in him testifies to a cold and calculating personality and a lack of paternal love. However, from the father’s perspective, financial support is the best and most natural way of expressing and putting into practise the love for a relative.

Both are left wondering what they have done to deserve such treatment from the other and why the other fails to love more? The way I see it, both father and son are stuck in their own understanding of familial love and consequently fail to see the love the other tries to offer in his own culturally formed way.

The film does a compelling job in dramatically staging this culture war between father and son. Part of the documentary’s appeal is its attempt to give an honest depiction of the relationship. It does not try to hide any of the son-cum-director’s insecurities, doubts, and acts of self-centeredness. No matter how awkward or tense the situation gets, the camera does not look away and no cuts alleviate the viewer’s discomfort as he or she witnesses these intimate family moments.

Bezness as Usual appeals to our empathic and imaginative capabilities by placing us in the midst of a family affair. Being a work of art, it enriches our understanding of the impact of cultural differences on our primary relations by giving concrete form to something as abstract as cultural values. It reflects on cultural conflict by appealing to our abilities to imagine, remember, think and feel far beyond rational argument. The film couldn’t have come at a better time, as these abilities are essential now that we are faced with so many cultural, religious, and ethnic others that urge us to reflect on our own identities.

Jakob Boer (1987) schrijft om te worden wie hij is. Hij denkt/schrijft over, door en met film om de (zijn) mens(elijk)heid te leren begrijpen. Hij studeerde Kunsten, Cultuur en Media (BA) en Literary and Cultural Studies (Research MA) aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

F: https://www.facebook.com/jakob.boer

T: https://twitter.com/boer_jakob

I: https://www.instagram.com/jakobboer/

L: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jakob-boer-b7406266

De toerist en de vluchteling

Door Carmen van Bruggen

Midden in het Park Retiro in de brandende zon staat de Frans-Spaanse fototentoonstelling opgesteld: Caminos de exilio (Paden van ballingschap). De zoveelste tentoonstelling over vluchtelingen met beelden die we allemaal kennen: een hek waarachter veel te veel mensen je treurig aankijken, een kind dat over het prikkeldraad wordt getild, een gesluierde vrouw die angstig om haar heen kijkt en mannen die een stoffig landschap doorkruisen. Continue reading “De toerist en de vluchteling”

The Perkins Prize and Honorable Mention go to…

By Krina Huisman and Steven Willemsen

Literary theory is alive and kicking in the Arts, Culture and Media department. During the yearly conference for the International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN), which was hosted in Amsterdam this month, professor Liesbeth Korthals Altes was awarded the Perkins Prize for the most significant contribution to the study of narrative in 2014. The jury also awarded an honorable mention to another book that was partly written in Groningen, by former post-doctoral researcher Marco Caracciolo. Continue reading “The Perkins Prize and Honorable Mention go to…”

Recensie: De Wand – Ulrike Quade Company

Door Carmen van Bruggen

Het is alsof je even God bent geweest. Van een afstand – ver van de wereld en buiten de tijd – heb je naar de mensheid gekeken. Of, misschien is ‘God’ niet het juiste woord. Het was eerder alsof je vanaf een lege plek hebt gekeken, vanuit het niets. En ook alsof je niemand was. Alsof je, terwijl je al lang niet meer bestond, toch nog kon blijven kijken naar hoe de mensheid langzaam uit het zicht verdween. Continue reading “Recensie: De Wand – Ulrike Quade Company”

Fifty shades of art criticism

By Franciska de Beer

What is good art criticism exactly? The question was raised last week in the Groninger Museum where the symposium ‘Art criticism, art theory and art history. A complicated complex interplay?’ took place. With scholars from so many divergent fields attending, I was curious to find out what direction the debate would take. Continue reading “Fifty shades of art criticism”

An Autonomous Year for Eurovision?

By Quirijn van den Hoogen
Groningen University

This year Eurovision was particularly interesting to me. I have many fond childhood memories of watching a night of Euro-trash pop music ever since Johnny Logan’s victory 1980. But I lost interest somewhere in the late 1990s after Eastern Europe started entering the competition as an expression of their independence ‘regained’ after 1989, flooding the competition with Balkan pop. Continue reading “An Autonomous Year for Eurovision?”

Classical music meets Ecology: Hélène Grimaud’s new album Water

By Jeroen van Gessel
Groningen University

‘This is the world’s most precious commodity. We need to control as much of it as we can.’ Thus spoke Dominic Greene, the bad guy from Quantum of Solace, while taking in a performance of Tosca. He wasn’t talking about the opera, however, but about water and that’s as close as classical music and water ecology have ever gotten in the public imagination. Continue reading “Classical music meets Ecology: Hélène Grimaud’s new album Water”