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Documenta 12 – a blue collar exhibition?


taavakasvotI returned from the Kassel Documenta in June, feeling confused and even disappointed, wondering whether I had mysterically become immune to art experiences. I quickly noticed, however, that I was not the only one as the headlines of the international press screamed: ”The worst art show ever” (The Daily Telegraph), and ”100 days of ineptitude” (The Guardian).

Roger M. Buergel, the artistic director of the exhibition, has stated that he almost always chooses things which “seem strange”. This I am in agreement with, but this is all – in spite of the fact that Buergel developed an art form out of explaining away all the problems, which were pointed out by the critics.

Buergel described the themes of the exhibition with an almost Schillerian eloquence. Yet the questions “Is modernity our antiquity?”, “What is bare life” and “What is to be done” became banal in their vagueness, and along these lines many other things started to look incomprehensible (at least to me).

To the question “What is to be done?” Buergel suggested education as an answer and characterized Documenta as a “lay audience” exhibition. I can’t help wondering how this would have been realizable in an industrial town, in which the unemployment rate is 20 % and where there is no knowledge of a previous invasion into art events by blue collar workers.

From the point of view of art professionals, a special problem is the ameobalike spreading of the exhibition all over the place, from one venue to another, comprising 500 works and more than100 artists. Works by Juan Davila, Zofia Kulikin, James McCracken and many others have been scattered throughout the venues. The pearls of the exhibition can’t be discovered if the event lacks backbone (although Buergel himself is of the opinion that large shows of this kind are “inherently formless”).

With the help of the strong contribution from outside of Europe present in the exhibition, it would have been possible to create an original and high-profile event, if it had not been for too weak choices of work and idiot proof names. Has Gerhard Richter, for example, become a compulsory part of the equipment of all international art exhibitions?

The biggest cause of my astonishment is the choice of the Catalan gourmet chef Ferran Adrìa. Fifty exhibition goers were supposed to be picked by random sampling and the plan was to fly them to Adrìa’s high society restaurant. If this was realized and if the number of exhibition goers rose up to the level of 2002 (650 000), 649 950 of all the laymen could not visit the restaurant. Is this the way to combat elitism?

Perhaps Buergel got stuck staring at the stars, even if the exhibition was supposed to be installed on the face of the earth? Or he was carried away together with his wife and co-curator Ruth Noack, speeding away in his car endowed by his second main sponsor Saab, forgetting about the fatally important Saab Documenta slogan: “Move your mind”.

Less would have perhaps been more again – several influential people from the art world openly confessed that getting acquainted with all that the exhibition had to offer was beyond reach. On the other hand, it was not the fault of the Documenta in being a five-year-interval event, which had to compete with the schedule of the art experts; with Venice Biennale, Art Basel art fair and the ten-year-interval event Sculpture Projects Münster.

Sometimes, however, nature helps art. The outdoor installation by the Chinese Ai Weiwei collapsed in a storm, but Ai thought that the final result only improved. Additionally, the original price of the work was doubled as an interested buyer appeared at the site.

Taava Koskinen


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