16 Jun - 23 Sep 2007
16 June - 23 September 2007
documenta is regarded as the most important exhibition of contemporary art, drawing attention from all over the world. It was initiated in 1955 by the artist and art educator, Arnold Bode, in Kassel. After the period of Nazi dictatorship, it was supposed to reconcile German public life with international modernity and also confront it with its own failed Enlightenment.
Nobody would have thought at that time that the exhibition, often called the Hundred Day Museum, would become an unparalleled success. Nevertheless, the twelfth documenta will be taking place in summer 2007.
The singular character of the exhibition has been preserved. Every five years, a new director is chosen and the exhibition is reinvented, a concept which to date has been affirmed by the public's interest. The number of visitors has continually risen. More than 650 thousand visitors came to Documenta11.
Under continually changing directorship, and in the equally leisurely and inexorable rhythm of five years, documenta has advanced to become an authoritative worldwide seismograph of contemporary art. At documenta it becomes manifest whether art is succeeding in grasping the world in images and whether these images have validity for its public.
Roger M. Buergel is the artistic director of documenta 12
The artistic director of documenta 12 is Roger M. Buergel, an internationally active exhibition organiser and curator who was born in Berlin in 1962. Together with the art historian, Ruth Noack, as curator, he will, in line with documenta's claims, show art from the most various regions of the world and in all conceivable media. The works should not be shown simply unrelated to each other in a line, but be put into relationship with each other.
The Leitmotifs: Three questions posed for art but also for its public
To initiate such a productive exchange, documenta poses three questions for art, and also for its public: Is humanity able to recognise a common horizon beyond all differences? Is art the medium for this knowledge? What is to be done, what do we have to learn in order to cope intellectually and spiritually with globalisation? Is that a question of aesthetic education and cultivation? What constitutes life, when everything is subtracted which does not belong essentially to life? Does art help us to penetrate to what is essential?
These leitmotifs and questions which influence the curatorial process already require resonance space in the lead-up to the exhibition, both on local and international levels, which will be generated by two documenta 12 projects:
documenta 12 magazines — a platform and three issues
"The documenta 12 magazines will provide an interested public with the knowledge required to be able to move competently and therefore leisurely through the space of the exhibition." (Roger M. Buergel)
One important project of the exhibition are the documenta 12 magazines, a magazine of magazines. More than 70 periodicals, magazines and online media from all over the world will enter into a dialogue. They will discuss and reflect the topics and theses of the exhibition. They will react to them and question them on the basis of their particular knowledge.
documenta 12 advisory board
"From an exhibition which I call political I expect that it will educate and cultivate its public, that is, draw it out of the attitude demanded by the mass media, which amounts to us being very well informed but unable to act." (Roger M. Buergel)
documenta 12 aims to support its public in relating the artistic works exhibited to their own lives. It is interested in local knowledge and also in making the exhibition work on a local level. Consequently, it seeks dialogue with people in Kassel who are interested in questioning history and the present, in asking about the issues and problems of the city and its residents.
This contact manifests itself in the documenta 12 advisory board. About forty experts from Kassel are working on the leitmotifs to documenta 12 in this committee and confronting these, as the documenta 12 magazines are, with their own specific knowledge.
documenta 12 has three leitmotifs. It is no accident that they take the form of questions. After all, we create an exhibition in order to find something out. Here and there, these motifs may correspond, overlap, or disintegrate – like a musical score.
Is modernity our antiquity?
This is the first question. It is fairly obvious that modernity, or modernity's fate, exerts a profound influence on contemporary artists. Part of that attraction may stem from the fact that no one really knows if modernity is dead or alive. It seems to be in ruins after the totalitarian catastrophes of the 20th century (the very same catastrophes to which it somehow gave rise). It seems utterly compromised by the brutally partial application of its universal demands (liberté, égalité, fraternité) or by the simple fact that modernity and coloniality went, and probably still go, hand in hand. Still, people's imaginations are full of modernity's visions and forms (and I mean not only Bauhaus but also arch-modernist mind-sets transformed into contemporary catchwords like “identity” or “culture”). In short, it seems that we are both outside and inside modernity, both repelled by its deadly violence and seduced by its most immodest aspiration or potential: that there might, after all, be a common planetary horizon for all the living and the dead.
What is bare life?
This second question underscores the sheer vulnerability and complete exposure of being. Bare life deals with that part of our existence from which no measure of security will ever protect us. But, as in sexuality, absolute exposure is intricately connected with infinite pleasure. There is an apocalyptic and obviously political dimension to bare life (brought out by torture and the concentration camp). There is, however, also a lyrical or even ecstatic dimension to it – a freedom for new and unexpected possibilities (in human relations as well as in our relationship to nature or, more generally, the world in which we live). Here and there, art dissolves the radical separation between painful subjection and joyous liberation. But what does that mean for its audiences?
The final question concerns education: What is to be done?
Artists educate themselves by working through form and subject matter; audiences educate themselves by experiencing things aesthetically. How to mediate the particular content or shape of those things without sacrificing their particularity is one of the great challenges of an exhibition like the documenta. But there is more to it than that. The global complex of cultural translation that seems to be somehow embedded in art and its mediation sets the stage for a potentially all-inclusive public debate (Bildung, the German term for education, also means “generation” or “constitution”, as when one speaks of generating or constituting a public sphere). Today, education seems to offer one viable alternative to the devil (didacticism, academia) and the deep blue sea (commodity fetishism).
Roger M. Buergel, December 2005
Roger M. Buergel
Sonia Abian Rose
Cosima von Bonin
Dias & Riedweg
Iole de Freitas
Grupo de artistas de
vanguardia (Archivio Tucumán Arde)
Jorge Mario Jáuregui
Kerry James Marshall
J.D. Okhai Ojeikere
Jorge de Oteiza
David Thorne, Katya Sander, Ashley Hunt, Sharon Hayes & Andrea Geyer
Lidwien van de Ven