from Germany…and my first post is initial reflections on Documenta 13.
Documenta is always a vast sprawling beast of an exhibition and this time around it seemed all the more so. Besides the usual venues and locations several participants literally took to the streets and presented in shops, clubs and disused buildings. Getting around and into such places especially in a limited time frame was an impossibility – all the more so if one gave time to work that demanded it. Over a very packed day and a half only around sixty percent of the event revealed itself…and in many cases only a fraction of the work itself. The whole of the Hauptbahnhof remains a mystery as we simply had no time to venture out to it.
Neither did we take to the sky to experience work by ‘Critical Art ensemble’ , a helicopter ride, though we did see the aircraft the once whilst we had lunch overlooking the Karlsaue park – or maybe that was just a helicopter and not art at all? And as this time around part of the event takes place in Kabul, Alexandria and Banff they remain only a virtual construct to us.
So what did we see? As always impressions of some pieces remain in the mind longer than others. An extraordinary video work by Omar Fast, San Durant’s chilling sculptural piece in the park, the performance on ‘The Machine’ by septugarian Lynn Folkes and the huge compelling drawings by Julie Mehretu are just four that I want to discuss in more detail. Others one recalls for reasons that are less enervating…Jimmie Durham, Ryan Gander, Ceal Floyer and several others suggesting last gasp conceptualism of the “ok I get it but was it worth the bother, the expense and the swallowing up of quality spaces” kind.
These ‘ideas’ with little or no visible physical form seemed to me all the more paltry when set against work that had been painstakingly and craftily constructed over significant timescales. Take the marvellously rich and beautiful video works by Wael Shawky for example…vivid and extraordinary puppets reenacted the history of the crusades set against equally inventive backdrops and the resulting dramas repaid the time necessary to properly engage with them. Or in contrast examine the sheer faces of the paintings of Julie Mehretu that rose vertiginously upwards some twenty feet…where complex rotring drawn architectural lines intersected overlaid with imagery, smears, blobs and assorted other marks spoke of locations of significance across the globe. Though nowadays these artists deploy a battery of assistants in the production process it is nonetheless their consistent and insistent vision that propels these superb works into existence.
In recent Documenta’s it has become de rigour to undertake a certain amount of revisionism and rehabilitation. So here there were paintings by Emily Carr, drawings aplenty from Gustave Metzger, Boetti’s Mappa – albeit reframed in the context of an installation by Mario Garcia Torres, and the amazing drawings by Charlotte Salomon that I’d only ever seen previously online. Some kinds of art making can it seems now only be presented in these contexts…so the unreconstructed paintings by Gordon Bennett are seen only in the context of their historicized ‘idea’ though they are visually very conventional, just as much as the works by Margaret Preston that they are intended to critique.
As an abstract painter one inevitably paid attention to such work where it could be found. In one case this was in one of the garden chalets (albeit very elegantly constructed) dotted around the Karlsrue gardens. Doug Ashford is an artist previously unknown to me…and I suspect to many others. He seems to have previously practiced mainly as part of a socially motivated group of NYC artists but here he has produced rather beautiful hard edged colour abstractions with curious photographs on canvas alongside…derived from re enactments of two figures captured in a scuffle from a newspaper article image. Exactly what the conjunction is intended to symbolise was unclear though a parallel between the formal interlocking of colour forms and the embrace of the figures was obvious enough.
A similar notion was at work in a small shop premises appropriated by Francis Alys…his text referenced a whole poetic history of recent painting history and the curious postcard sized abstractions were attractive enough…with the staging including a locked room into which we could simply glimpse through a small window in the door but its ultimate purpose and meaning was harder to understand, even when the framing reference of artists work being affected by wartime experience is taken into account.
Some things only reveal themselves in retrospect…the critic Lori Waxman for example, in her booth where she was willing visitor artists to bring work for a short critique. I would happily have submitted had I known!
So much stuff…more reflections to come before I move onto Ostrale 013 in Dresden…a smaller enterprise in some ways…but one in which me and the ‘missus’ were participants.