PRINT September 1982


THE ADJECTIVE “MODERN” AS it has been applied within culture over the last 100 years has always indicated a break from history rather than a continuation of it. But a pattern of breaks, when long enough sustained, itself becomes a “tradition.” As we begin the end of this century—the next fin de siècle—we are confronted with a situation so complex as to include not only artists whose work continues to invigorate this credo of invention but also Modern artists whose “break” or perhaps “invention” has to do with a disruption of what has become this tradition of invention in Modernism: they aggressively flaunt historicism as the subject matter of their work. So we have a conundrum that can only be solved by examining and questioning what is progressive and what is regressive.

Given the record of this century it is perhaps not surprising that in 1982 there should be such acutely felt tremors beneath all the ideologies that have determined the education of the Modern consciousness. Previous positions on nationalism and internationalism, production and expression can no longer simply be assumed. When social and esthetic advances are intense and simultaneous it is called either a golden age or a revolution; no one has described this time by any of these words. During the opening days of Documenta 7 the floors of the exhibition spaces and the paths leading to them were littered with hundreds of small squares printed with the slogan “En Avant Comme Avant” (Ahead Like Before). Whether construed as a truism, an observation, or a criticism, whether aimed specifically at Documenta or more generally, this confetti—with the addition of a question mark—could serve as the grand clue to the riddle of 1982.

Historically, the international exposition implicitly promised a view of culture’s progress. It is because of this tradition that we pay such close attention to exhibitions with the ambit of Documenta 7, which included 180 artists from 21 countries, constituting three full chronological generations. The ideal is to gain a larger and less fragmented perception of where contemporary art is and toward what it might be moving than is possible through the more frequent glimpses permitted by smaller exhibits, one-person shows, or the biennials that usually project national self-images. In this Documenta, as was stated by the artistic director and the members of the artistic committee, a focus emerged out of the balance of selection and the phrasing of the installation.

Artforum’s coverage of Documenta 7 consists of two different types of inquiry. In this issue the critics examine what they consider to have been the curatorial cogito. In the October 1982 issue attention. in the form of reviews, will be given to individual artists and their work, and in addition there will be reports on various international biennials and other such estimative surveys that took place here and abroad during the summer.

Ingrid Sischy