Trip Start Jun 16, 2007
Trip End Sep 23, 2007

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Flag of Germany  ,
Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Documenta art festival happens once every five years, under the control of a different curator each time. The emphasis is on contemporary art, but the curator is otherwise unrestricted in the selection of work. Indeed, this year's collection (Documenta 12) was very contemporary, with many works created in 2007 and none earlier than the 1960s (with the glaring exception of some 16th century Islamic calligraphy--don't know how that qualifies as contemporary).

The collection spanned all media and all parts of the world. And it culled entirely from unknown and lesser known artists. (Or so I read. I am too ignorant of contemporary art to judge who is known and unknown.) It was also huge, featuring about 150 artists and taking up 6 large galleries. One really needs at least two days to explore the exhibition adequately. The first time I was there with Claudia, we spent almost the entire Saturday looking at art and only managed to cover 4 of the galleries, none of them very thoroughly. And by the end of the day I was beginning to experience what my friend Jennifer (who is an artist) had warned me against: "art overload." The second time I was there with Terry, we managed only three, though we did have a thorough look at everything in the Friedricanium.

Nonetheless, it was an exciting and enjoyable experience. I liken it to a day of lucid dreaming, with a constant stream of novel and bizarrely juxtaposed images. If there was order in the chaos, I was unable to find it. (The curator claims that three questions bind the collection together: Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? What is to be done?) In writing about one installation by Graciela Carnevale, New York Times critic Holland Cotter sums up the dynamic of Documenta 12 as a whole:

"It's obvious that something is going on here, but what? There were no instructions, no statements, no polemics, no signature style. You wouldn't know you were looking at the work of a single artist unless you asked. Visitors wandered into the gallery, scoped out the situation and looked confused. Most moved on fairly quickly; a few settled down to see what, if anything, would happen."

In this photo album, I have included some photos from the orginal trip to Kassel with Claudia and a few of the larger installations in Documenta Halle. Otherwise, there is a separate entry for each of the artists who most impressed us (usually in a positive way). To save time, I am just copying artist bios and work descriptions from the Documenta website for most entries. The cases where I use my own voice should be obvious. :-)
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