Re: [-empyre-] economics of the art system: the example of documen ta

Millie et al,

I don't have a comment here about exclusionary practices, if such may exist or not, in new media curating. This would be a topic for another day perhaps. My remarks relate exclusively to documenta 12 and its associated magazine project. On the contrary, Documenta 12, if anything, had few 'star' artists therefore did not play to any particular agenda about who's in and who's out in the artworld much less the 'new media' world, however defined. Not at all. My observations relate specifically to a certain numbing or anaesthetic effect that the mise-en-scene of Roger Beurgel and Ruth Noack's self- described strategy of an exhibition 'without form' and documenta as a space, as they put it, 'where art communicates itself and on its own terms." They go on, "This is aesthetic experience in its true sense: The exhbition becomes a medium in its own right and can thus hope to involve its audience in its compositional moves." ( This and all further quotes from Roger M. Beurgel, Ruth Noack, excerpt, English translation, from Preface, Documenta 12 catalog, 2007).

Because Beurgel and Noack discard contextualization of works of art, in a radical way (from the Latin, at the root), they must rely on something else, which they talk about as time lines of form, or, to quote again, "to approach the internal dynamic destinies of form not only theoretically but to actually show them, turning them into documenta 12."

Perversely this strong formalist intention maps their strategies. Formalist and, more, essentialist, by which I only mean, dealing with 'essence' as a core value or intent in the object d'art. Which could be really interesting of course, like any strongly held curatorial position. And the results are interesting, to be sure, in a kind of horribly fascinating way.

In the installation, in every venue, artworks seemed to be swimming in interiors that over determined their impact...kind of like artwork in a nightclub or something. How has this come to be? And does this weird effect also extend to the silencing and marginalization of the magazine project?

According to their own remarks in the preface, the curators actually believe that the public in general doesn't know about art ( i. e. how to interact with it), and therefore has to somehow be led into conditions where they can be led to 'just see' the art. The effect, when you go through the documenta spaces, can be somehow that the curating seems heavy-handed or non-existent (take your pick, people I talked to felt one way or the other, which comes to the same thing).

This is a bizarre situation. Let's go to the curators' own writing on the subject of their intentions. The curators wanted to 'do documenta' (sounds pretty racey in English... like "Debbie Does Dallas"!) --- They call it "an exhibition without form, mean[ing] entering a field of highly contradictory forces". They obseve accurately that "the fascination emanating from the show , as well as the expectations it raises are enormously high." Then they make a stunning leap into the first of many unsupported assertions: "This is due to the fact that people are not really well equipped to deal with radical formlessness."

This last statement about 'people' in general is not supported by any evidence in the text. The curators offer this, an opinion, as a fact or fait accompli. Who 'people' are and what is 'radical formlessness' is left up for grabs.

The curators set up shop as the friendly (if a bit arch) folks who will help "people" who essentially, through some lack of apparatus, apparently can't deal with "radical formlessness" , who"feel the challenge deeply" and here the object of the word 'challenge' is left vague--presumably the challenge of being stuck with a task to perform without the right tool or equipment. So the exhibition itself apparently is some kind of tool?

Without developing the equipment allusion further, lest anyone get too curious about this, (or God forbid, feel castrated or at a loss), the writers rush to take refuge in the impersonal voice: "But how does one keep the balance between identification and fixation?" Again we are awash in generalities. How did the text suddenly move to 'fixation', and why is it necessary to 'keep' some kind of 'balance' between 'identification' whatever that is, and 'fixation' which they don't define. Seems like some worry that the public will fetishize art objects unless the curators make some careful moves to keep everybody nice and balanced? Is it bad to be fixated or to identify with art or with its content? Who knew? ?

The curators claim that the role of art didactically is to keep the great unwashed (sorry, you folks out there in TV land) from either identifying or fixating on art: "But how does one keep the balance between identification and fixation? Art can teach us this discipline, " they stolidly assert.

Why is this a discipline? Why is art supposed to teach us not to connect with itself? hmmm.. this gets quite puzzling if not downright daffy. The curators want not to highlight artists names nor 'all-encompassing concepts' (again, this is left undefined.. do they mean aesthetic categories like 'tragedy' 'beauty' 'sublime'--- one can only wonder). Nor do they wish to 'favor geopolitical identity' , as -empyreans- have here observed with annoyance! So what's left? Well, they admit to liking certain artists ("certain artists matter to us more than others"_)
and concepts ("of course particular concepts remain essential"). Quite a dazzling nonchalance. Wow, we're now informed they've got some favorite concepts and favorite artists, and that's about it.

Then the coup de grace: the curators assert in what (only) way exhibitions of art in general have value, as follows, "exhibitions are only worth looking at if we manage to dispense with preordained categories and arrive at a plateau (wait! I thought there were a thousand!!!) --- where art communicates itself and on its own terms." Whoa! Who the 'we' is in this statement is unknown. Guess I could read it as 'we curators' or 'we human beings who are trying to look at art' (and incidentally their characterization of exhibitions as scenarios for 'looking at' stuff is charmingly archaic). And then, what art's own terms may be once the human factors of identity, place, subject, and content are stripped away is mystifying. Like trying to conduct scientific experiments without a topic or an hypothesis.

Nevertheless the curators desire that 'the exhibition becomes a medium in its own right and can thus hope to involve its audience in its compositional moves." There it is. The exhibition hopes to involve us in its moves. OK!! That's the beginning and the end of the whole enterprise. Documenta, for them, is a work of art by them, the curators. If you follow their train of sentiments (calling these a line of 'thought' seems overly generous), what you get is a situation in which the art and artists involved are just elements or incidents within a grand schema or sketch or flourish, made by.... you got it, the big guys, who know how to balance things. The exhibition is supposed to deliver 'its audience' into a state of suspension between 'identification and fixation'. Millie, its not about which artists are chosen or whether somebody's been excluded. Its about any particular artistic thought/action (eg art 'objects') being neutralized within a larger scheme that weighs in as the positive value. The flip side of all this positivity, is the negative referent, the ignorant public, who is the only subject left to this positive forcefield: here you and I will be treated as we should be, pupils, who need to be brought up (elevé, which means, of course, also, educated) to a plateau where we may wander around, I guess, awash in the mystery of 'art communicating itself'--- its 'self' being berift, finally, of anything except its colors, its mass, its relative light or lack of lighting its placement next to or far from other objects, its lack of identifying tags on the wall nearby. If this isn't disturbing as an ethos, I don't know what is.


On Jul 30, 2007, at 1:24 AM, Millie Niss wrote:


It's good that there were so many good people involved who did their best, and of course those people deserve all the credit they can get. What I don't understand is where these situations come from when virtually all the actual artists that I have run into seem to be ethical, hard-working, and doing legitimate work. Who gives these institutions so much money and power and where do they find their personnel? They clearly aren't drawing from the same new media community that you and I and the rest of the list belong to, where people help each other and do good work...

P.S. Sorry for the multiple copies of my message. My email is broken in three different ways (literally) and I was using my cell phone which has a tendency to want to send the message before I have finished composing it. I had hoped that I stopped it in time, but apparently the "cancel" commands did not work.
empyre forum

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.