What audiences expect from exhibitions

It is never clear what audiences expect from exhibitions like documenta X. If it is considered an Olympiad, a checklist of the very best, then it is sure to have the glaring omissions and non sequiturs that invariably come with an exhibition that carries with it so much curatorial muscle-flexing and conceit.

For this year’s documenta, French curator Catherine David presented a survey with parameters. In her introduction she described her aim to position art within the geopolitics of the cold war and post-cold war. The survey also fell along the same time-line as documenta itself, from around the time of its inception in 1955 right up to what David described as the advancements in East Asia and the “de-Europeanization” of economics, hegemony, culture, et al.

Her statement did not mix entirely with what was presented. There was, for instance, no artists from Japan or South Korea, two countries where a significant amount of art production has occurred in the past decade. Non-European artists were in more evidence in the 100 Days-100 Guests symposium – an equally important aspect of documenta X that, like the on-site broadcasting lab (the Hybrid Work-Space) and a dozen or so artist projects on the Net, angled to broaden documenta’s base in Kassel to a globally accessible event. But the symposium and techno-affiliations were negligible tag-ons compared to what was being presented along the parcours, 115 artists exhibited in all.

The historic foundations of David’s survey were made clear by the greater amount of space given to the undisputed. Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (1962-96), for instance, a work of five thousand photographs that read as the artist’s sketchbooks over the past thirty-four years, took up one-half of the first floor of the main gallery, the Fridericianum, and was coupled by generational cohorts like Hans Haacke, whose 1971 docuphoto project that traces New York slum buildings back to their corporate owners was exhibited nearby. And the late Marcel Broodthaers’ documentation of himself angling to become a successful, selling artist by creating only the advertising props of artistic production – art posters, brochures and exhibition cards – and pinning them to the walls of a “museum” within the museum. More advertising than art, Broodthaers’ work underscored the capitalism inherent in art production. There was also Oyvind Fahlstrom, founder of concrete poetry whose floating political poem, The Little General (Pinball Machine) (1967-8), was a tank of water filled with buoyant cut-outs of military personnel and porn stars that were operable by viewers blowing them around to create endless variations on borderless constellations.

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