International News Digest

Various European papers have weighed in with obituaries for Austrian artist Franz West since his death last month at the age of sixty-five. Rose-Maria Gropp noted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “West never quite lost the crude truculence of his early years, even as he became an art star, beloved and coddled by the market.” Meanwhile, in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Samuel Herzog declared, “Many of West’s sculptures are fundamentally gestures; they seem like three-dimensional recordings of a movement.” Die Welt listed Wittgenstein’s language games, Freud’s psychoanalysis, and Mikhail Bakhtin’s writing’s on the culture of laughter as West’s influences, citing the artist’s infamous 2001 performance in which he filled a Maserati with lacquer that was pink—his favorite color. In Der Standard, Thomas Trenkler wrote, “Until the end, he stayed true to the principle of making usable sculptures.” And Jerry Saltz penned West’s obituary in Monopol, calling Auditorium, which appeared in Documenta in 1992, “one of the most impressive, simply mysterious, and influential installations I have ever seen.” Added Saltz, “It provided a decisive influence on relational art, for art that would stand as a work but at the same time engage the observer in a physical way.” Franz West’s next exhibition will take place posthumously from August 22 to February 2013 at Vienna’s MUMOK.

Speaking of Documenta, the exhibition’s thirteenth edition in Kassel has set a record at its halfway mark, with 10,000 tickets already sold. This edition will also likely bring in a record numbers of visitors: According to Der Standard, 378,000 people have attended thus far. In contrast, the twelfth iteration of the exhibition saw 750,000 visitors at its conclusion, but recorded only 330,000 attendees at its halfway mark. Artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev said, “I am especially happy that many visitors have come back several times and feel at home in a show that offers a sensual and perceptual experience, but is also intellectually challenging.”

Publications have expressed some skepticism after Jonathan Meese was appointed to stage Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal in the 2016 Wagner Bayreuth Festival. Bayreuth directors Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier stand by their decision to bring on the forty-two-year-old Meese. While this isn’t the first time that this opera has been staged by a contemporary artist (Christoph Schlingensief took on the same role in 2004), Meese is a somewhat controversial choice. Catrin Lorch of the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote, “The appointment of nonprofessionals reveals the artistic directors’ pessimistic insight that professionals might turn out decent productions, but not spectacular successes.” Lorch noted that the appointment of Meese—who is known to use swastikas in his projects—might seem particularly bold after the much-publicized decision by Bayreuth to let go of star baritone Evgeny Nikitin for having what appeared to be a swastika tattoo on his chest. Katharina Wagner explained the difference between Nikitin and Meese to Die Welt, stating that Meese “examines our history critically, even cynically.”

The trial of Russian punk band Pussy Riot is underway, and prosecutors have demanded three years of labor camp for each member of the band, according to Masha Lipman in the New Yorker. The three female defendants, on trial for “hooliganism” and “inciting religious hatred” after staging a performance titled “Our Lady, Chase Putin Out!” in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, “insist that their act was artistic and political in nature.” Defense lawyers have argued that the women's performance was not about religious hatred, but was an act of opposition against Putin. Attorney Mark Feygin suggested that a guilty verdict would tear the country’s fragile political state apart, and that the public would never forgive the government for jailing three innocent women. He told The Guardian that political tensions in Russia, including those existing between society and the church, are building to similar levels as before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. A verdict is expected by Wednesday. English translations of the full closing statements by defendants Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been posted online.