And so we stroll through the exhibition, which the art
historian and critic Bazon
Brock termed a "third-class hodgepodge" – pursued by a "Migration of
Forms." Prior to the exhibition, there was a lot of fuss concerning this
key theme of Buergel’s – an idea that in practice turns out to be
curatorial hot air. His attempt to construct formal relationships between
works in order to increase our understanding has led to a void in content.
In the Fridericianum, for instance, the catchword "string" is supposed to
conceptually link a 100-meter-long red cord by the Indian artist Sheela
Gowda with Tanaka
Atsuko’s Electric Dress made from electrical cables and a
bondage video by Hito
Steyerl. Nowhere in the exhibition do works strung together in this
way join to create a coherent thesis. Certainly not in the mix between old
and new art. Instead, the well-known rule applies: as soon as works are
only hanging together because they resemble one another formally, the
event becomes tremendously dull and leads the public by the nose.
© Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle;
Katrin Schilling / documenta GmbH
is why viewing individual works is what’s most worthwhile at the documenta.
If only the exhibition makers had supplied the necessary information to
understand them. Then one would know that Iñigo
Manglano-Ovalle’s truck installation Phantom Truck plays
upon a non-existing vehicle in which, according to U.S. intelligence, Saddam
Hussein allegedly produced his biological weapons. The Americans
justified their war on Iraq with images of this "phantom truck" – a fact
the visitor either has to know or read in the catalogue to the tune of
Photo Roman März /
Lacking information in the
exhibition, the viewer is left with two possibilities: you can randomly
stroll past the works, making them seem like ornaments that more or less
appeal to you aesthetically – or you can set out on a search for meaning.
And then, all too quickly, you feel like you’re in a class that you never
intended to take: cryptic, indecipherable, and with two exhibition makers
as class geniuses parading their advantage as zealously as they jealously
Lovely Andrea, 2007
© Hito Steyerl
documenta exercises social criticism this time around, too. There’s
a tradition for this in Kassel. However, the political content of the
works this year remains strangely superficial in many places, even
shallow. Instead of investigating the causes of things, the artists
content themselves with depicting the symptoms. For example Brownie:
stuffed giraffe quickly worked its way up to become the documenta
mascot. Actually, at first sight the poor animal looks as though it were
in the process of shedding its fur – a tad shabby.
Ryoji Ito; Takamatsu City Museum of Art,
s/w photography of Atsuko Tanaka
City Museum of Art & History, Ashiya
Whoever asks the initiated for information about the work’s
meaning learns that the animal lived in a zoo in the West Bank and died
during an Israeli military raid. Of panic. To Buergel’s mind, Brownie
is a "concentrate" that stands for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,
although the exhibition makers remain silent on what insight the giraffe
might provide as a symbol for the dead-end situation in the Middle East.
But the catchword "Palestine" certainly attracts carefully calculated
media attention to Brownie, the artist, and the curator.
interplay between artists and the media also functions splendidly in the
case of some non-European artists. At the documenta opening,
numerous TV teams zoomed in on Romuald
Hazoumé from Benin. The artist built a boat calling attention to
African refugees who have perished while trying to reach Europe’s shores.
Unfortunately, Hazoumé used gasoline canisters for his sculpture, everyday
objects in Benin guaranteed to exude an "authentic" African aura. To top
it off, the artist also placed his boat in front of a wallpaper mural of
an African beach, giving the documenta team a chance to revel in
presenting genuine ethno-kitsch – as in a few other cases, where woven
rugs or Arabic calligraphy are supposed to satisfy a European hankering
for the visual "other."
Romuald Hazoumé / VG-Bild-Kunst
Courtesy the artist
picturesque than political, ethnographic instead of illuminating. At this
year’s documenta, what you miss is a clear stance – whether
to art or to life. The curatorial married couple already announced that
they wanted to unsettle their public so that it might learn to "endure
tension and complexity." You can share this view, but it becomes clear
that "unsettling" doesn’t suffice as the sole point in the program.
Particularly when it comes to documenta, where art lovers hope for
impulses that point to the future. Luckily, you can recover from the
disaster in a special place: throughout the entire duration of the documenta,
Deutsche Bank Art Lounge in the Café of the Luther Church Tower offers
visitors refuge far from all the blather about meaning.
Trogemann / documenta GmbH
Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2007
Buergel and Noack
have drummed up a backwards, sleepy, and, in terms of taste,
embarrassingly private documenta exhibition that strives in vain to
lay claim to a relevance for the contemporary art establishment. A fairly
frustrating result. But Buergel has given us this, too, to ponder upon:
"Frustration is an indispensable component of the educational process."