DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

d11 2002

With his team of six co-curators from six different countries, artistic director Okwui Enwezor, the first not to have come from Europe, demonstrated an open-minded and truly international approach to the world for Documenta11. As envisaged in the original concept they invited artists to Kassel from countries that had never been represented there before, to make a unified international experience of the documenta as an exhibition of world art in a stage of global post-colonialism.
In terms of its content, time-scale and geographical dimensions Documenta11 was significantly broader in scope than any of its predecessors had been. Enwezor took the imbalance out of the art experience by holding the documenta in five different locations around the world. The exhibition at Kassel was the fifth of these 'platforms', as they were called; the other platforms that had preceded it represented venues for lectures and discussions that actively explored contemporary art-specific, political and social issues from a critical perspective. In this context the final exhibition platform supplemented and provided a reflection of the discursive platforms without in any way representing a merely illustrative approach to the theoretical discourse. The interplay between the different platforms demonstrated that aesthetic experience is an intellectual activity reliant on knowledge and the ability to discern. This notwithstanding, many of the artworks on show still proved accessible even without in-depth background knowledge through intuitive or reasoned observation – for example, Georges Adéagbo's assemblage L'explorateur et les explorateurs devant l'histoire de l'exploration…! Le théâtre du monde. The artist displayed images, signs, texts and other found material that related directly to the venue and the occasion, so creating a form for open encyclopaedic knowledge that questioned prevalent Western European dominated learning.

The result of this global and discursive analytical concept was a new record. 650,000 visitors came to appraise around 450 artworks on a surface area of 13,000 square metres at the largest documenta ever. The documenta was divided into parts that were shown at the Fridericianum, the Kulturbahnhof, the Orangerie and the Karlsaue, as it had been before. In addition, the Binding brewery was also added to these venues.

The question Enwezor posed behind the global orientation of the exhibition, "how contemporary art in all its different forms can continue to develop in a dialectic relationship to the entirety of global culture", was answered cautiously in the end. Taking into account the current political, technological and ideological conflicts, developments and mixtures, it proved an extremely "difficult and sensitive" undertaking. Consequently, in the end Enwezor left the public unclear about "contemporary art's prospects and its position in working on interpretational models for the different aspects of today's ideational worlds", although delivering a quantity of material for reflecting on the theme. Decisive was the taboo-break associated with the exhibition. Enwezor cast doubt on the claim to primacy of Western culture by shifting, even inverting, the centres of development and the references.

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