As institutions have increasingly diversified their collections in recent years, there has been a growing interest in the artistic practices of underrepresented artists. This interest has beneficially challenged existing cultural hierarchies and exclusive tendencies of traditional museums and art institutions, putting the spotlight on voices previously unheard. However, it has also produced concerns about the discovery narrative formed around the artistic practices of those artists. This institutional narrative of overlooked, forgotten, or rediscovered artists creates a widespread myth around their practices—in certain cases erasing a richer account of their histories.
This thesis will investigate the general problem of embracing discovery narratives in recent curatorial practice by focusing on one case study: namely, recent interest in Western institutions in the writer and artist Etel Adnan. More specifically the thesis investigates three curators who presented Adnan in Western contexts over the last decade: Adnan’s inclusion in Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s documenta (13) (Kassel, Germany, 2012); Hans Ulrich Obrist’s monographic exhibition of Adnan’s work, titled The Weight of the World (Serpentine Gallery, London, 2016); and Eungie Joo’s New Work: Etel Adnan (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2018). Assessing each exhibition’s distinct approach to Adnan’s practice, this thesis analyzes how each show embodied a discovery narrative that limited a broader understanding of her work. Finally, the thesis suggests an alternative curatorial methodology to remedy this reductive narrative.