DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

Lunch Lecture - Review: On curatorial methods: Universalist frescoes, grand statements and major exhibitions

documenta 12 magazines, 12 July, 1 pm, documenta 12 Halle

Foto: Julia Fuchs
The documenta magazines had invited four of their co-editors to take part in a debate on curatorial methods and major exhibitions, with special focus on documenta 12. Panel member Lisette Lagnado had curated the 27th São Paulo Biennale entitled “How to live together” (after Roland Barthes), in which – as with documenta 12 - she had endeavoured to avoid any suggestion of national representation.

Yet is it possible to articulate a narrative in an exhibition without taking account of local contexts? Lagnado commented that after touring through the exhibition and browsing through the catalogue she arrived at two statements, whereas Pablo Lafuente remarked upon the decontextualistion of the art in the exhibition. Here Charles Esche interjected that this year's Venice Biennale has affirmed one canon of art history, namely, the history of art as written by New York's Museum of Modern Art. (It should be pointed out, however, that Robert Storr, Artistic Director of the 52nd, Venice Biennale, is also curator at the Museum of Modern Art.) Esche underscored the importance of documenta 12 in attempting to challenge this "global stamp of authority” from the American perspective. Lafuente listed a number of different accounts of, for example, a feminist, an Eastern European and South American history of art which have all been written by documenta 12.

Victor Misiano experienced the “biennalisation” of the art scene from a different perspective: In recent years, he explained, international curators have been scouring Moscow in search of talent or "hunting heads" as he puts it, and currently a debate on the representation of one's own history is being conducted there. This tendency is also manifested in the Münster Sculpture Project which is mounting a nostalgic retrospective of the city's own exhibition history. Yet why, Misiano enquired, is Modernism not seen as a social Utopia? In the 1990s the communicative aspect of art played a crucial role, yet art museums became increasingly marginalised. Curators of major exhibitions are now attempting to resolve this contradiction by transforming the exhibition itself into one enormous art work: "We don’t see the individual works, but one big work and that is documenta 12". Esche sees in the curatorial philosophy adopted, on the one hand, a formal and on the other, a humanistic orientation, with the exhibition is, in his opinion, serving as a "learning machine". The lack of texts by curators both in the catalogue and in the exhibition prompted Esche to conclude that the exhibition itself is to be read as a text. The “political” surfaces only in Munich’s Schlachthof, where, for example, the “unravelling” of Humanism is depicted in Artur Żmijewsk’s video installation "Them" (2007) as a "beautiful destruction". Costinas asked for the panel’s views on enquired on his view on the exclusion of explicitly political works, citing the example of the video installation "9 Scripts from a Nation at War" which can be viewed outside the designated space of the exhibition, namely in the discursive section of the documenta halls. Esche stated unequivocally that the exclusion was, of course, self-imposed. A woman from the audience then asked why education is not perceived as a political issue. Lagnado agreed that education was a indeed political instrument which in the context of the biennale was of importance to her. Cordula Daus, from the documenta 12 magazines, then asked how the panel perceives the various organisational forms of documenta 12 - in comparison to the platforms of documenta 11, where the exhibition itself constituted the fifth platform of “an ongoing discourse”. Lafuente alluded to the “outsourcing” of criticism into the magazines, ie. where the criticism takes place outside the exhibition. Esche, however, took a diametrically opposed view, describing the attempt to integrate the critics as a “generous moment”. Also in the audience was Rike Frank from the documenta team who reported that many artists found it extraordinary to be not only invited to Kassel but also to be able exchange ideas in the run up to the exhibition in their local magazines.

A panel discussion with Pablo Lafuente (Afterall, Los Angeles), Charles Esche (Afterall, London), Lisette Lagnado (trópico, São Paulo) and Victor Misiano (Moscow Art Magazine, Moscow) on the objectives and limitations of large-scale curatorial projects, with special focus on documenta 12.Moderated by Cosmin Costinas (documenta 12 magazines).