documenta balance sheet: turmoil to contend with |

Status: 2022-09-24 06:00

Documenta 15 in Kassel is closing its doors this weekend. The international art exhibition has been hotly debated for months, fueled by repeated accusations of anti-Semitism.

by Juliane Bergman

After the opening, feelings were aroused first by anti-Semitic motives, then by pro-Palestinian propaganda films. Debate overshadowed the 15th edition of the document. The curatorial collective Ruangrupa defended itself against the subsequent restrictions of the expert advisory commission and talked about censorship. Documenta CEO Alexander Farenholz regrets that he was not able to bring both sides to a constructive discussion until the very end: “In my opinion, this dialogue did not even start, it failed at the very beginning.”

Farenholtz started in July as a mediator, as a communicator. He became the interim successor when boss Sabine Schormann’s contract was terminated.

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Claudia Christophersen © NDR Photo: Christian Spielmann

She still has a good week to catch up so she doesn’t go down in Documenta’s history books as one disgrace.

Who takes responsibility in the collective of artists?

For the first time, the artistic decisions of this documentary edition were no longer in the hands of the curator, but of the collective – Ruangrupa from Indonesia. A concept that appealed to many visitors.

Criticism of some exhibits intensified, the question arose as to who is responsible for collective decisions. Nicole Deitelhoff, conflict researcher and chair of the advisory committee of scientific experts, sees a need for improvement: “I still think the concept is great. But the execution has not really worked. As much as the selection is based on horizontality and devolution, at one point in 2010 the curatorial team there has to be someone who looks out for dangerous one-sidedness, for distortions that cannot be tolerated. And that didn’t happen here at all. On the contrary: everyone refused to take responsibility for it.”

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“We all need to start this discourse”

Now the processing phase begins. The expert commission once again thoroughly analyzes the organization, curation and work of the documents. At the end of the year, the team will publish a final report with recommendations for the future of the documents. To discuss further is also the task of the whole society, says Nicole Deitelhoff: “Everything we saw in documenta also has an unrestricted concept of art, where many people are sometimes no longer clear: what is art?” or not? What role do archives and documentation play in art? So there are many open questions that are discussed in the art scene, but only there. I think they affect our whole society and we all have to start this discourse about what we really imagine as art, what we want to accept from art, where we want to draw the boundaries and how to do it.

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Documenta fifteenth poster, the Fridericianum columns painted black in the background © picture alliance/dpa |  Sven Porter

The 15th edition of the document refers to the lumbung concept based on Indonesian architecture.

“A certain stage in the history of the document”

Despite the turmoil surrounding this year’s edition, Alexander Farenholtz does not see the document’s reputation at risk. On the contrary: “Even if it is surprising now: the fact that the document was willing to take risks to start such a project tends to strengthen the reputation of the document. My very personal opinion is as follows: Due to the special nature of this exhibition, it is indeed an important milestone in the history of documentary, up to not so much so far.

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GDR Culture | Magazine | 09/23/2022 | 4:00 p.m

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