“An Exception in Every Respect”
Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019)

Okwui Enwezor was one of the most important curators of his generation. With Documenta11 he fundamentally changed our view of modernism and contemporary art by embracing a truly global and democratic perspective. In 2015, he curated the 56th Biennale in Venice, and he was director of Haus der Kunst in Munich until 2018. Since 2008, Enwezor had been a member of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, alongside Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Nancy Spector, who was succeeded by Victoria Noorthoorn. Among other things, the body made recommendations for Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” award. After a long battle with cancer, he died on Friday, March 15, at the age of 55.

Born in Calabar, Nigeria, in 1963, Enwezor began his career in the early eighties in New York, where he initially studied political science. He was also interested in art at the time and wrote poetry. In 1993, he cofounded the magazine NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, an important forum that called for a departure from a canon that viewed modernism and contemporary art solely as achievements of European and American industrial nations. In 1996, he curated the Johannesburg Biennale, and in that same year also received international recognition with the exhibition In/Sight. African Photographers 1940 to the Present in New York. Enwezor made a hitherto neglected medium a focus of the reception of African contemporary art. In 1998, he was appointed artistic director of Documenta11 and triggered a revolution in the run-up to the event. Rather than limiting the world art exhibition to Kassel, he established platforms in Vienna, Berlin, Lagos, New Delhi, and Santa Lucia, at which topics such as “democracy as an unfinished process” were discussed. The idea that there were no longer any centers and peripheries on the map of global art and politics, was reflected in the nonhierarchical concept of the documenta exhibition. Enwezor was not only interested in reappraising colonial history. He integrated politics, history, and science into the show on an equal footing and exhibited artists that had so far been undervalued by the Western art world in correspondence with artists from new regions. For many critics and visitors this was the first truly “global” documenta, an exhibition that also reflected a world that has been radically transformed by the Internet and the digital revolution.

Later, when he was appointed director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst, Enwezor continued to strive to incorporate the perspectives of people and cultures from former colonial areas, from eastern, western, Pacific, and Atlantic regions, inhis work. In doing so, he promoted talent from the new art centers, and also endorsed the nomination of artists from these regions for Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” award. Among them were Wangechi Mutu (2010), Yto Barrada (2011), Victor Man (2014), whose exhibition Enwezor showed at Haus der Kunst, and Basim Magdy (2016). “Okwui Enwezor was an exception in every respect,” says Friedhelm Hütte, Global Head Deutsche Bank Art. “He was an extremely intelligent and inspiring conversationalist, and a humorous, impressive personality. As a curator he was a pioneer. Our view of the global art world, which is taken for granted today, would not have been possible without him. His commitment to Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year,” lasting more than a decade, had a decisive impact on this award. He will be sorely missed by all of us.”

The last exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor, El Anatsui. Triumphant Scale, is on view at Haus der Kunst in Munich until July 28, 2019.