Documenta 12: Exhibit aims to involve people in art
Stars and Stripes June 21, 2007
European edition, Thursday, June 21, 2007
From Iole de Freitas’ giant, soaring untitled work of stainless steel and polycarbonate ribbons to the 346 photographs that make up Zoe Leonard’s “Analogue,” documenta 12 has everything a contemporary art show could ask for.
Every five years, documenta turns Kassel, a provincial German city, into a capital of the art world as hundreds of thousands of art enthusiasts, artists and critics flock to the city for the show’s 100-day run.
The first documenta, in 1955, organized by Kassel painter and art professor Arnold Bode, was a surprising success, and the 10 that followed kept the art world buzzing — often in controversies over the choice of artists, their art and the artistic directors.
This year’s artistic director, Roger M. Buergel, and his curator and partner, Ruth Novak, gathered more than 500 works by 100 artists or artistic teams from around the globe for the show. The works are spread over five main locations: documenta-Halle; Museum Fridericianum; Schloss Wilhelmshöhe; Neue Galerie; and the temporary Aue-Pavillion, set on the meadows of the Fulda River.
The United States is well represented, including the aforementioned Leonard; African-American artist Kerry James Marshall; Mary Kelly, known for her women’s rights-themed works; and Allan Sekula, whose giant photographs are exhibited in the Wilhelmshöhe park.
Buergel established three leitmotifs for the show: Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? What is to be done? Not easy questions to answer, but neither are two questions that might come to mind walking through the show: Is that art? and What is the artist trying to say?
The latter question is answered simply in Inigo Manglano-Ovalle’s work titled “Ghost Truck.” In a dimly lit room stands a gray truck he built according to photos of supposed mobile weapons labs that Colin Powell offered as evidence against Iraq at the United Nations.
The first question comes to mind when one sees Peter Friedl’s “The Zoo Story,” a real stuffed giraffe. It is only answered when one learns that the giraffe, Brownie, died at the Qalauliyah, West Bank, zoo after it panicked over shooting heard when Israeli troops attacked the town during the second Intifada. Viewers then get the message that innocents — animals and humans — are harmed in war.
West African artist Romuald Hazoumé’s “Dream” is a life-size refugee boat made of plastic canisters set in front of a photo of an exotic tropical beach. For the Westerner, a paradise perhaps; for the local, a place to flee from.
American artist-dancer Trisha Brown’s “Floor of the Forest,” an installation and performance with dancers climbing in and out of clothing suspended from ropes tied to a tube frame, is more ambiguous, but is perhaps the most fascinating work to watch.
The artists have used about every medium and material available for their works: traditional painting, sculpture, photography and multi-media installations; metal, plastic, cloth, wax, paint. And the stuffed giraffe.
Video installations have been big in the last documenta and in this one, but in the days of YouTube!, MTV and the Internet, artists are going to need to be edgier to get their messages across.
After seeing documenta 12, rather than being able to answer the posed questions, viewers will probably have many more.
But one thing is certain: There is a whole lot of art — much of it thought-provoking — to see.