Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Claire Bishop

Committee Members

David Joselit

Romy Golan

Johanna Burton

Subject Categories

Art and Design | Arts and Humanities | Contemporary Art | Fine Arts | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Modern Art and Architecture | Museum Studies


artist-curated exhibitions, the artist's-eye, artist's-choice, exhibition as medium, exhibition history, museums


This dissertation charts the proliferation of artist-curated exhibitions in museums and institutions of art from 1969 to the early 2010s. It is my contention that the artist-curated exhibitions of these four decades can be divided chronologically into several types: in the 1970s and ’80s, they disrupted museological conventions and helped contemporize the (perceived) aging collections of historical institutions; in the late 1980s and ’90s, they tackled pressing social and political issues, reimagining the practice of “institutional critique”; in the late 1990s and 2000s, they indulged in solipsistic investigations of the artist’s psyche, reinforcing the traditional, romantic conception of the artist as a singular creative genius. The growth of such exhibitions has transformed the fields of curating and exhibition design, redefining the parameters of exhibition-making and blurring the once distinct lines between installation art and exhibitions, as well as artists and curators.

This dissertation is as much a critical analysis and history of artist-curated exhibitions as it is a narrative of the rise of contemporary art as a distinct and influential field. Whereas such artist-as-curator programs were inaugurated by historical museums seeking to render themselves more contemporary, in recent years they have been adopted by contemporary art institutions. This incongruous development is the result of a shift in the understanding of the category of contemporary art. No longer a mere descriptor denoting the present, the contemporary has come to designate a period that is out of time, asynchronous and multi-temporal. This dissertation will thus demonstrate that the proliferation of artist-curated exhibitions—with their largely unconventional, ahistorical approaches—has resulted in the dismantling of history as it was understood and represented during the modern period.