[-empyre-] Re: no identity at all

Dear Empyre,

I had to respond to Christina McPhee's description of documenta as "a
very emotionally exhausting, depressing place to be" because my
reaction was the exact opposite. Though I was skeptical about the
importance of individual works or the usefulness of certain
installation techniques, I came away feeling excited and stimulated.

I think accusations that documenta 12 "withholds context" miss the
point that the curators' ambitious aim was to build a new context for
looking at art. We are comfortable seeing the history of modern art as
a series of landmarks, a succession of new ideas presented by a
handful of geniuses who shaped the course of art's development.
documenta 12 rejects the idea of modernity's forward-surging
linearity, and shelves concepts of innovation, novelty and the
romantic artist-hero. Instead, it demonstrates that artists in
far-flung parts of the world, probably unaware of each other's
existence, were tackling similar problems in similar ways, and how
certain formal solutions to problems of visual expression were current
at different times in different places. It offers a flatter, more
horizontal history of art. Sorry if those last adjectives seem
obscure, I just haven't come up with a better way to describe it yet.
Maybe another poster can help me out. Or maybe it would help to
compare art history according to documenta 12 to the theory of history
that Tolstoy lays out at the end of War and Peace – history is made
not by famous individuals, but by the masses.

Many people have expressed indignation about the lack of national
context. I think it would be more productive to question the use of
national identity as a crutch to understand art. How useful is it?
Cross-border mobility is greater now more than ever. Many artists
chose to live in cosmopolitan centers like Berlin or New York, and
often spend much of their time traveling on grants, to say nothing of
artists of previous generations who moved in the beginning or middle
of their careers because of political disasters. (Is Alina
Szapocznikow Polish or French? Is Juan Davila Chilean or Australian?)
That makes ethnicity a negligible factor in contemporary art. So why
do viewers need to have that information, besides the fact that they
are used to having it? I'm reminded of the global city theory of
Saskia Sassen (Dutch or American?): major urban centers are oriented
toward global processes, not national ones; artists are often global
citizens, even if they choose to live outside the centers. documenta
12 visualized this.

I had a few more points to make, but that is probably enough for one
posting. I would just like to second what Sergio Basbaum said – that
it is important for art exhibitions to provoke strong reactions, it
gives us things to talk about and an opportunity for our understanding
of art to grow. If the topic of our discussion were Robert Storr's
exhibition in Venice, there would be a few messages saying "yes, that
was nicely done" before the thread died out.


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