dOCUMENTA took a shotgun approach | Arts | DW | 17.09.2012
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dOCUMENTA took a shotgun approach

Since everything is art and art is everything, this year's dOCUMENTA was particularly inclusive. But did the curator's inexplicable concept work? Most likely - but art lovers are hoping for something different next time.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev restrained herself over the past 100 days. That must have been quite an adjustment after she had spent the months ahead of dOCUMENTA constantly talking about the fact that she didn't have a concept for the prestigious contemporary art festival in Kassel.

When dOCUMENTA opened in June, Christov-Bakargiev simply let the artists and their works speak for themselves. And that was a clever move because the visitors from all over the world were able to form their own opinions.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev had something for everyone

When it drew to a close on September 16, 860,000 art enthusiasts had visited dOCUMENTA 13 - more than have attended any other edition of the festival.

Across the board

Without a doubt, it's been a success. But a non-concept seems like an odd approach for an international art fair that is so exclusive because it only takes place every five years. It is, after all, the curator at such events who sets the tone and decides who is invited to present their work. With all her theoretical ideas and decisions, the curator practically becomes a work of art herself.

This year, Christov-Bakargiev selected nearly 200 artists from all over the world to share their works - 100 of which were created especially for this edition of dOCUMENTA. It's not only the origins of the participating artists that makes dOCUMENTA a truly international festival, but also the sister events that have been founded in Kabul, Cairo and Banff.

The curator's non-concept quickly became the concept. The artworks in the show represented not only dozens of countries, but also every thinkable genre of contemporary art, from paintings and sculptures to video installations, computer art, photography and graphics. New and old were present, as were works from living and deceased artists. Music film, literature, architecture, design, philosophy, dance and theater all found room at the dOCUMENTA.

And this year's event wasn't limited to art, but included a strong focus on the sciences, including archeology, astronomy, zoology, ecology, economy, chemistry, physics and medicine.

Pierre Huyghe: Hund at dOCUMENTA 13

Pierre Huyghe's piece wore the dogs out

The diversity was limitless. As to be expected at a contemporary art fair, the very definition of art was redefined numerous times, with a vegetable garden, a sound installation, and film and lecture series all declared works of art. Even members of the Occupy movement, who set up their tents in the middle of the dOCUMENTA campus, became part of the show.

Then there were the animals - especially the dogs. Christov-Bakargiev said she wanted to broaden people's perspective beyond the human race, to gain new perspectives by observing all the living creatures in the world. A dog agility course was set up, along with an ecological landscape artwork which became home for 100 days to two dogs with pink forelegs. The two dogs, which were hugely popular with the visitors, were allowed to chase mice or plastic bags.

Everything is art is everything

If it happened in Kassel in the past 100 days, it was art.

"dOCUMENTA is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory," said Christov-Bakargiev.

She is not the first to call everything art. Joseph Beuys, a one-time participant at dOCUMENTA, springs to mind. But this year's curator went a step further, opening new perspectives for many of the visitors and making each person and thing a part of the whole.

The result contained something for everyone - for the environmentalist and the anti-capitalist, the art expert and the free thinker. While some saw the approach as freeing, others were more critical.

"It's very unfortunate that Christov-Bakargiev doesn't want to talk about the criteria, the differences and the qualitative decline of the acquisition of artistic knowledge," wrote critic Gerrit Gohlke in Germany's daily "Tagespiegel."

"You can sense that there is supposed to be something for everyone, many contradictory facets for many contradictory expectations," wrote Jörg Heiser in the "Süddeutsche-Zeitung." "The result is radically conceptual criticism of market economics next to folkloristic eso-kitsch, and challenging four-hour films next to airy installations with herbs and flowers."

An exhibition room at dOCUMENTA 13

The diversity at dOCUMENTA was overwhelming

Whether or not they liked it, no one who has anything to do with art dares to miss the dOCUMENTA. So whether the tens of thousands of visitors who showed up speak for the presentation is hard to say.

While the shotgun approach seems to have worked this time, many will share the sentiment of Gottfried Knapp from the "Süddeutsche-Zeitung," who wrote, "One would hope that the 14th edition of the dOCUMENTA will in five years find its way back to themes and try to set standards - in whatever area."

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