PRINT October 1982


This is the second section of Artforum’s coverage of the Documenta 7 exhibition, in which the work of some of the individual artists in the show is discussed. (See Artforum, September 1982, for a review of Documenta’s curatorial approach.) In the November issue, the Venice Biennale will be covered.

Sol LeWitt seems to be in a period of productive splendor, a period that was trumpeted here by last fall’s high-reverb, triumphant cubes. LeWitt’s site-specific wall drawing for an alcove at Documenta 7 seemed nearly reckless, so thorough was its involvement with the architecture, even that of these less than perfect, truncated walls. The piece, titled Black and Gray Three-Inch-Wide Bands in Four Directions, was made up of straight and diagonal stripes of alternating gray and black, and its impact was textural—almost like gesso. These were stripes out of nature, not off the drawing board, and they ran their course—stopping where they stopped, paying no particular heed to the dicta of corners and edges. Their relationship to surface and support was one of cathexis; there was no analogy as there was no remove.

LeWitt has loosened his grip on the cube, as though it has, for him, become something like an emotional truth, no longer demanding analysis and dissection. The cube is there no matter what—even, as in this alcove, when it is not only incomplete but also distracted. This cube was not indentured to geometry and was free of geometry’s usual burden of architectural mimesis: if the structure is inchoate, put the idea of structure into surface—don’t be a shadow box instead and try to fool people. Serene and guileless, LeWitt’s geometries have taken on an aspect of the alive—like landscapes, and they exude from way back deep in the wall.

Lisa Liebmann

Donald Judd’s work has assumed both modesty and magnanimity, neither being characteristics for which it has usually been admired. More often than not over the years, Judd’s pieces have conveyed all the purposefulness of a no-frills flight—getting there was rather less than half the fun. His many floor and wall sculptures performed their own hermetic steps, suggesting inverted muscle strength, clenching perhaps, and what emanated from them had the powerful edge of competitive misanthropy; his floor pieces cut you at midsection; the vertical wall pieces exceeded you; the horizontal ones jutted out aggressively at eye-level.

But lately Judd seems to be using the human body as a measure, not as a scoring device. The spectacular plywood stacks that he showed in New York last fall, though of larger-than-life stature, could be loosely calibrated in units of human height and reach. Judd’s sculpture on the grounds at Kassel was an open-ended, three-dimensional parallelogram of mossy Cor-Ten steel segmented on the inside by straight “walls” which described a rectangle at base. It was possessed of the linear delicateness of traditional Japanese architecture and was, indeed, poised in this manicured park with the discretion and pliancy of a geisha. Fine-tuned to its surroundings and to its viewers’ perceptions, it seemed from certain vantages and in certain lights to withhold its volume and look like a drawing in open air. At other angles, its center section seemed to evanesce as though giving passage to atmosphere and the shifting sun. As one approached, it coalesced. The sculpture stood about six feet high—people could and did walk through it—it seemed to want to elicit the shyness of unanticipated encounter.

Lisa Liebmann

What began looking silly ended up, like Gunga Din, looking heroic. Barry Flanagan’s hare sculptures are reminiscent of a plucky Rudyard Kipling hero. Barely covering their armatures, his bronzed coils of clay are twisted like pipe cleaners into a variety of metamorphic poses which only rarely resemble those available to a hare. One, standing atop an Anvil, puts up his dukes like a cocky featherweight. Another arches upright, poised for a dive, on a marble Ball and Claw like those supporting Victorian bathtubs. A twosome strike the poses of Acrobats while balancing on a trivet. Finally, against all reason, an enormous bronze Leaping Hare is caught, as if in mid flight, over a steel pyramid of interconnecting battens. Airily towering above one’s head, Leaping Hare has every reason to be one of the world’s most pixilated monuments, but it isn’t. It’s beautiful and it’s triumphant.

Flanagan’s hare is an inspired updating of a charming 19th-century sculptural subgenre, animal modeling, merged with a story-telling tradition that reached its apogee with Beatrix Potter. But it is also 20th-century art, and it is not unmindful of a heritage that includes Alberto Giacometti and Alexander Calder as well as such teachers of Flanagan as Anthony Caro and Phillip King. This heritage, in fact, dignifies and deepens the undertaking. Flanagan’s hare is more than able to bear the weight of metaphor which variously suggests the buoyant durability of the figurative impulse and the trenchantly sentimental legacy of an English sensibility. For all its intrinsic traditionalism, Flanagan’s sculpture, like a Jane Austen heroine, is compellingly modern.

Richard Flood

Even today France has probably not recovered fully from the blow of being replaced, after the war, as an art center by New York. And the six artists representing France in Kassel, including Niele Toroni (who is Swiss by birth), do not redress the balance. Daniel Buren cannot uphold the honor of the nation forever; Bertrand Lavier, in any case, doesn’t give him much help. So much inconsequentiality requires courage. When Lavier came to the Stuttgart exhibition “Europa ’79” he attracted attention, like a one-eyed person among the blind. At Documenta 7 he showed, among other things, a banister of light silver metal roughly painted over with silvery industrial paint. If, after Duchamp, one did not expect to find art in everything and anything at such exhibitions, I would have taken this to be simply petit-bourgeois craft.

One hopes this is not an example of the irony that Lavier is repeatedly credited with by critics. If so, the artistic reach here is too short to advance anything. But it very much seems that Lavier is actually presenting the essence of current French thought on art, color, and painting—which apparently consists of turning around in a circle and shouting bravo while constantly looking at oneself. In this way French artists don’t see what is happening behind them, and thus don’t get nervous.

Annelie Pohlen

In the spot in the catalogue for listing the artist’s place of residence, James Lee Byars commented, “travels.” In the Fridericianum tower he installed a gold-upholstered easy chair in a black tent; in the entrance hall, he placed a gold column. For the opening of Documenta 7 he stood in front of the column dressed in a black suit, black hat, and a black blindfold. In 1972, dressed in white, he took his place on the building’s cornice. Maybe, at this Documenta, he at some time sat on the chair in the tent; I didn’t see him, but in my imagination he was there, traveling. Hear the first totally interrogative philosophy around this chair is the title of the installation. Once again, Byars is philosopher, magician, clown; blind visionary, or regal dreamer. If the gold that he installed at Documenta 7 is supposed to provide a meaning, it is that of “absoluteness”—yet at the same time the column is merely a short, squat column. Absoluteness is unattainable by material means, just as Byars’ “perfect question,” in the first volume of the catalogue, cannot be asked—only implied by the phrase “perfect question.”

As I understand it, Byars subversively smuggles the fetishes of gold—the easy chair, with its references to monarchic splendor, and the column—into Documenta 7. Admittedly the armchair environment is a little too impassioned, suggests too much. But the column is “perfect,” and in turn the reverse of that, and then the reverse of that again. It is a monument to the “perfect question,” perhaps—and a creative undermining of consecrated art.

Annelie Pohlen

The huge paintings of the English artist Bruce McLean, acclaimed for his performances and installations, were a welcome surprise when exhibited in the Basel Kunsthalle (reviewed in Artforum, November 1981). There McLean used painting as the catalyst between expressive sensual stimulation and intellectual strategy; rhythm, action, excitation, and experiment, spontaneity and deliberation, provocation and harmony, assertion and ironic refusal, myth and deliberate triviality all converged to prevent a merely pleasurable reaction in the viewer. In Kassel, however, precisely this pleasure seems to enter McLean’s images. The fine lines of faces drawn on a colored ground are cleanly distributed across the canvas. A world of color and line, figurative and rhythmical, has deteriorated to harmonious decor. Measured against his earlier pictures, these are just wall decorations for persons of good taste.

Annelie Pohlen

Two pencil drawings on linen paper of a half-open, extended hand; on the wall, stones tied and hung up with steel ropes; a block of stone with a compass needle standing on the floor: these are Giovanni Anselmo’s symbols of force and energy.

The space is full of a tense quiet which swings between the sublime and the menacing. The staging manifests something that cannot be materialized: a stream of energy, liberated by the interactions of the objects, for these objects not only exist as objects but also correspond to actions and forces. The space does not merely tell of energy, but makes it real to the intuitive experience. Each object shares in suggesting it, and together the parts keep each other in balance. The conceptual aspect of rational analysis and of conscious perception is intensified in the experiential realm of intuition. What can be described is within the field of the eye, not of experience. That experience has its start in the action of the artist and is directed toward each person who enters this space with an open mind.

Annelie Pohlen

Until recently art objects featured in the dealings of the Art & Language group merely as topics of debate. Times change. To borrow their own specialized terminology, the shift from “second-order discourse” to “first-order discourse” allows them to address issues such as the return of painting, the prevalence of bad taste, and the predominance of a neo-Expressionist esthetic. Yet, as ever, the two large paintings they showed were implicated in the continuous philosophy-cum-debate that constitutes their art.

Painted by mouth, the two large pictures at Documenta (the first in a projected series of four, which become increasingly distorted) show members of the group in their studio, surrounded by publications and previous work of all kinds. The artist’s-studio theme in Modernism has been an ambitious, heroic subject, both summary and manifesto, asserting that art persisted despite the events of the outside world. As Gustave Courbet saw, it was a form of “real al legory”—a way for artists to lay claim to some representative status. Art & Language have crossed Courbet with a kind of official portraiture; the catalogue contains an explanatory list of objects, people, and pictures represented, as if it were a state occasion. Each of the series therefore becomes an index, a kind of peinture à clef, and a self-justificatory statement in the “it’s art if I say it is” tradition, encapsulating the curriculum vitae of each member of the group. This is a realistic move. The paintings are inept, and show the artists, brushes in mouths, making them. The viewer is constantly reminded of the method of working. One of the results is the sabotage of high seriousness such art demands. (“And was it all painted by hand?” asked Oscar Wilde, stifling a yawn, when taken to see William Powell Frith’s Derby Day.) Another may be to focus on the kind of leap from a Dada joke to a richer, more politicized view of art that the group intends.

Since the paintings are surrounded by discussion, it seems fair to see these intentions as an integral part of the “complete” work. Statements make it clear that the viewer must be made to consider the relationship between a work of art, the conditions of its production, and the critical discourse that it engenders. Of possible reasons why the series should be produced by mouth—as a pun on Art & Language, or a bad-taste equation with the art of the limbless?—the most convincing is that it provides a necessary lurch before the argument is advanced, a set of ironic parentheses sundering connections, announcing that discussion is taking place. Yet it is more than an alienation effect: it gives a clue to the coldbloodedness of the logic the group is prepared to employ, and the bleakness of the answers they might be prepared to suggest.

Constituents of the discussion, its high-level and theoretical importance, can be gauged by a stage-by-stage reading of the long debate over Edouard Manet’s Olympia initiated by T.J. Clark and Peter Wollen in the pages of Screen in 1980, and joined by Art & Language in Block and Art History a year later. Clark’s essay examined contemporary reviews of Manet’s painting and tried to analyze the reasons for their inability to judge the painting in any appropriate way. Eventually he settled for the possibility that “Olympia might have failed to signify in 1865” because of its “multiplicity of semiotic practices,” not stabilized by Manet. Wollen, replying, defended not only Manet himself but also art typified by a “montage of discourses.” Art & Language’s position related to their own work:

A semantically incompetent work which was produced not just out of a technical incompetence. . . nor out of a simple or naive failure directly to refer to or express the ideologically ‘correct’ construction of reality. . . but out of a contradiction in the mechanisms of production (or a contradiction between those mechanisms and their representation), would be hard to locate in terms of any normal and prevailing first-order discourse, given, as we have suggested, that the function of any such presently conceivable first-order discourse will be to ratify one or other set of partial assumptions about some specific and class-based positions in the relations of production, and one or other concept of competence associated with it (e.g. ‘He did it for the money,’ or, ‘He did it out of inner necessity.’)

Seen in the light of this debate, much of it concerned with signifiers of social class in Manet’s painting, the standards by which the Art & Language paintings at Documenta should be judged become clearer. Could they have been planned as the kind of cacophony Clark senses in Manet?

The healthiest aspect of Art & Language is their skeptical approach to conventional defenses of abstraction and subjectivity. Perhaps their unhealthiest is their insistence that when a work of art tells the truth, it should tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The “Studio” paintings are tours de force, strategic maneuvers dictated mainly by the group’s response to art world debate. It is a pity that the pictures were separated and left to fend for themselves on the walls at Kassel, unsupported by texts, lost in a welter of wacky figuration. It is an even greater shame that with this gesture the group can only hope to put themselves in the position of Moses viewing the Promised Land; it is difficult to tell what kind of art it is meant to inaugurate.

Stuart Morgan

There is a simple dignity in the work of Lothar Baumgarten which is utterly singular. Caught up in a program of romantic anthropology, Baumgarten molds his specific interests into humanistic paradigms which eloquently address themselves to the fragile dominion of humanity. Whether it is in an engraved memorial tablet honoring the memory of Georg Forster, a bookwork dedicated to Marcel Broodthaers, or a decorative frieze in the dome of the Fridericianum, Baumgarten manages to poeticize both the form and the inspiration for the form. The frieze, conceived as a Monument for the Indian Nations of South America, is a litany of tribal names painted on the architrave just below the museum’s skylit dome. The names (Kayapo, Jibaro, Xavante, and so on), spelled out in Eric Gill’s Perpetua typeface in a red that simulates urucu (a dyestuff used for Amazonian body decoration), are instantly evocative of cultures wildly alien to the classicism of the Fridericianum. Yet Gill’s beautiful letter-forms and the sensuous urucu red conjoin so harmoniously with the architecture that all appears decoratively correct and emotionally inevitable. There is in the magical resonance of Baumgarten’s contrived coincidences something akin to the theme expressed in Robinson Jeffers’ poem “Hands,” which tells of a visit to a cave in Tassajara where a nameless tribe once inscribed the ceiling with their handprints. The poem ends with the following epitaph, which, I think, gracefully parallels Baumgarten’s program:

Look: we also were human; we had hands not paws.
All hail
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human."

Richard Flood

As with Joseph Beuys, Michael Buthe’s way of living makes comprehensible much of the form sought in his work. The way he stages his paintings in empty space echoes the way he lives, in an environment of data and card catalogues and apartment complexes.

Buthe stages these spaces long before the arrival of sensuousness in the new art. He is an artist of the generation that conceives the work of art as the eruption of an autonomous vision into society, i.e., as utopia. His utopia draws freely on myths from non-European cultures—from the American Indians, Persians, and Arabs. Considering the danger of misinterpretation, the combining of paintings and objects in Buthe’s space at Documenta 7 exemplarily focuses his dialectical “strategy” between baroque expansion and abrupt temporariness. The omnipotence of the gray everyday does not allow for intact utopian worlds; nor does Buthe seek them in myths of unspoiled, exotic civilizations. His “quotations” are symbolic backward glances for the purpose of storming ahead. His colors and his use of “festive” materials are directed toward the intuitive energy that must be won in order to achieve a creative human society. Whether this unity of the individual with the community ever existed is not important; what is important, though, is that that unity is as inherent in humans as is a longing for utopia. Buthe’s way with the tools of art—color, medium, picture, object, space—is directed toward kindling these energies in a sensuous/conceptual communication, just as he in his own way tries to live it. But to this he juxtaposes the incomplete, the open-ended, the ironic. The door to ecstatic flight is closed. In front of it, in the best romantic tradition, stands alienation.

Annelie Pohlen

Georg Jiří Dokoupil, surely the most interesting representative of the successful Cologne group of painters called “Mühlheimer Freiheit,” taxed the minds of visitors to Documenta 7. He repeatedly manages to shock and to sustain the curiosity of all who follow his work. Unless one had been informed of it in advance, it would have been impossible to associate all of the works Dokoupil produced for this show with only one artist; on the other hand, many of the other works here could plausibly be attributed to him. But common to all his contributions is the considerable difficulty they cause for the viewer’s eyes and head. Both art and philosophical/social questions are at issue in his work; all this in an exaggerated format, with bizarre renderings of the figure, and a color range heightened to the limits of the bearable—and with none of the sensuousness ascribed to the new art. Dokoupil presents systematically constructed visions of horror which can occasionally (but not always) be associated with social reality. These are the images of an intellectual gambler outfitted with the signs of revolt but with an unstated goal. Dokoupil may or may not know just where all this may lead, but in any case he causes problems for interested viewers.

Annelie Pohlen

Far out on the lawn in front of the Orangerie, the Fashion Moda Store occupied a funny little four-room structure left over from a horticulture show. While hardly a mainstream location, it was certainly closer to the hub of Documenta than is Fashion Moda’s South Bronx storefront to the galleries on 57th Street. What was most remarkable about the project was the provocatively encapsulated view it gave of an immediate, specific New York sensibility—a sensibility that mixes black and Hispanic influences with street politics, club-scene theatrics, and consumer-culture savvy. It would be wrong to pretend that the store fitted easily into the Documenta installation category, but it would be equally wrong to ignore it as the art project it was.

Fashion Moda’s merchandise was composed of artist-generated multiples and included T-shirts, posters, buttons, stationery, video magazines, and novelty items. A good bit of the merchandise had received informal market testing at a White Columns Christmas sale last December in New York. Much of it was socially or politically conscious; almost all of it had an edge that played off the givens of the item being marketed. T-shirts—with designs by John Fekner, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Kenny Scharf, David Wells, and others—ranged from New Wave funny (Scharf’s Jetsonist cartoons) to ruefully militant (Holzer’s “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE”) to urban poetic (Well’s drawing of a stag floating down-river past a ruined cityscape). Posters, like those portraying Mike Glier’s “White Male Power” villains and Christy Rupp’s ubiquitous metropolitan rat, were culturally analytic and polemically graphic. The novelty items included a veritable United Nations of trivet-sized, hand-painted babies by Ame Gilbert, perversely diminutive desk-top monuments by Tom Otterness, and wooden transistor radios by Kiki Smith. Stationery by Louise Lawler was bordered with appropriated excerpts from Rudi Fuch’s bizarre form letter to Documenta participants (sample: “How can I describe the exhibition to you: the exhibition which floats in my mind like a star. . .”); and Christof Kohlhofer’s ironically conceptual “Shopping Bag Ladies” portrayed a pantheon of American media heroines, from Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme to Margaret Mead, elaborately stenciled and spray-painted on brown paper shopping bags. The instant classics were Keith Haring’s “radiant child” and “barking dog” buttons which were selling by the handful at one Deutschmark each.

The seductive heart of the store was a video-viewing lounge with tapes for sale by Charlie Ahearn, Jane Dickson, Dieter Froese, Joseph Nechvatal, and Glenn O’Brien (one of whose tapes included David Byrne’s endearing rendition of “Tumbling Along with the Tumbling Tumbleweed”). The video lounge, which was simplicity itself with folding chairs and a single monitor, made the overproduced, overmounted video installations by other Documenta participants look technocratic. As an exercise in free enterprise (a banner read: “Owners Jenny Holzer/Stefan Eins”), Fashion Moda’s contribution was a pioneeringly original effort. As an art project, it provided a fascinating European debut for some very bright New York artists and added a briskly conceptual kick to an exhibition that maddeningly careened away from the economic and political realities of the art world, 1982.

Richard Flood

Dan Graham’s reflective and reflexive twin buildings were Documenta 7’s sculptural showstealers, a quietly effective tour de force which upstaged more obviously “expressive” pieces. Here the “sensational”—the creation of surprising sensations—came from the unsurprising park-and-spectator environment. It was created in passing by or casually entering the buildings—one was tempted into one or the other, and finally into both, through their peculiar outside appearance. From one perspective one seemed to be able to see through one of the mirror planes to the opposite side of the structure, as though it had no interior space. Discovering that it obviously did, one entered, only to be further baffled—one could and almost simultaneously could not see the scene on the outside at the same time as one also saw a reflection of oneself. One created one’s own performance and spectacle, as it were, and with that a peculiar, dislocated self-awareness; an alienating effect was generated, but also a self-identifying effect. This was a mannerist stunt, a funhouse trick which became a perceptual and also a psychological treat.

The structures themselves have a mannerist relationship to Modernist industrial-inspired architecture, just as they generate a mannerist, self-contradictory relationship to the perceiving self. They are steel-framed and glass-enclosed, with concrete bases, but their size is modest, they soar only visually, and come to us as strictly finite rather than as potentially infinitely extensible. They have an after-the-fact, ironical air of industrial accomplishment, as though they were outhouses summarizing the simple majesty of scientific architectural technology. It is as if the high-tech look were applied to a shed, thereby losing stature while at the same time being vitalized by its impure use. Finally the minimalist architectural form is used to extract a sense of the intimate from the impersonal, the private from the public; indeed, the interplay of personal and public is what the piece is about—the breakdown of the barrier between them, or at least its flexibility. The interior, private space is seemingly made completely porous—indeed, invisible, as if nonexistent—by the external mirrors that contain it. And from within the hidden private space, the exterior, public space is seemingly made random. Graham’s piece makes both public and private space—public and private perception—gambles, constructions, to which we are forced by experience but in which we never fully believe. Indeed, the strongest epistemological aspect of the piece is the way it makes clear to us that all space is a perceptual construct.

For me, Graham’s piece, with its rigorous logic of constructive self-contradiction, is a magnificently austere, iconic summing-up of all that is best in the conceptual/minimalist attitude. With a ruthless economy of means, yet with all the fullness of the world—to counterbalance its own emptiness as art, that radical emptiness into which the world of appearances is displaced so that the principles and conditions that determine it can be revealed experientially as well as abstractly—Graham’s piece is emotionally and intellectually provocative and engaging. It challenges us with our own expectations about what is to be seen, what happens to us when we see, and what happens when we discover ourselves to be seen just when we thought we were invisible in our privacy. Paradox itself has become heroic in this piece. Nature became radical in appearance through its reflection in Graham’s rooms, which also reminded us that an art exhibition is about the paradoxes involved in seeing the work as well as those that constitute it, if they can be separated.

Donald Kuspit

Increasingly one had the sense that Claes Oldenburg was at a loss, struggling with technical and material problems of execution rather than with innovative concepts. Now, with Pick-Axe, a work whose siting on the banks of the Fulda River in Kassel is carefully justified in an intelligent, articulate catalogue text, Oldenburg is again producing important work. There is a new sense of his stripping down to essentials. The unembellished, straightforward look of Oldenburg’s monumental pickax is crucial in this respect; it signals a new sense of mastery. In its grand scale and in the heroic isolation of its existence in the grounds by the river, the piece is a showstopper, as well as a “masterpiece.” Indeed, it becomes emblematic of an assertion of will, which it not only embodies, but embodies in a spectacular way which intervenes in the everyday while making an idol of one of its tokens. The pickax is a tool, and Oldenburg, in returning to the tool as a subject, returns to the obsession with instrumentation general for the original Pop artists (if obscured by the particular interest of some of them in media instrumentation). He takes pains in his text to deny the “authoritarian impression” of the piece—leaning the pick sidewise as well as forwards . . . as if [it] were about to fall" is supposed to prevent that. Yet he also imagines it as having been thrown by the statue of Hercules that overlooks Kassel, and aligns it with that statue along one of the main axes of the city. Pick-Axe is thus a mythological gesture of dominance, and a sign of the artist’s mythological strength.

But in Oldenburg the mythological becomes political and directly contemporary, and methodological rather than thematic. An instrument of brute labor is transformed into a symbol of the artist’s “idealistic” labor. The identification with the ordinary workman is confirmed by the piece’s location on the shore opposite a boat house; it becomes Labor opposite Leisure—the leisure in which the laborer might contemplate the fruits of his work, one of which is the work of art that celebrates his labor, and which can thus become a rallying point around which the community can center itself. But there is also Oldenburg’s self-identification—he is a communal worker, but also a solitary worker concerned with self-renewal, which he finds not through leisure but through making his work a meditation on itself. The circles of communal and individual self-recognition overlap in Pick-Axe, which thus truly becomes monumental—a monumental idea, not simply a monumental object. Indeed, the streamlining of Pick-Axe’s surface so that hammer and handle fuse (which cannot happen with an actual pick) gives it, with every new glance, the look of a hallucination. This further contributes to its mythological status; we are in the land of giants, of titanic strength and status: we are in the land of artists.

Tools of the Trade, Oldenburg’s indoor piece at Documenta 7, shows the same narcissistic absorption in personal strength, and the same interest in making a point of it in the community—only now the community is the artist’s own, and he aims more to competitively dominate it than ideologically to reflect or represent it. A tiny model of a room in the Fridericianum is skewered by a T-pin and sliced by a razor blade. It is sited in a larger-scale model of the same room; this room too shows a razor and T-pin, now large enough to bear the same relationship to the model they pierce as do the usual-sized, actual tools to the smaller model. And finally the two rooms, one inside the other, are located in the room in the Fridericianum on which they are based, which itself shows the same tools in the same positions, but now grown gigantic. A small art world—a space made as minimal as possible—is violated by objects that, while used in it, belong to the larger world, which is why they’re larger than the art world. They’re also objects not so much arbitrarily enlarged as engorged and congested, as if the objects had masturbated themselves into a state of tumescence. (I’ve always sensed in Oldenburg a camper dragging his worldly belongings into an alien art terrain, so as to remain as comfortable as possible. Or is it an artist making a field trip into the world, bringing back specimens that he then blows out of all proportion (emotional as well as physical) through his meditation on them?)

There is in this work an effect of ironic doubling, in which the model is incorporated into and central to the piece and is simultaneously a kind of witch doctor’s doll stuck with needles, victimizing the space. The artist as witch doctor: here casting an evil spell, while with Pick-Axe “curing” the community of the hardship of labor by idealizing its instruments. In this work Oldenburg de-idealizes ordinary instruments by using them violently; the aggression always implicit in his enlargements—aggression under the control of the ideal of grandeur—now breaks loose, mocking that ultimate testing ground for the work of art, the exhibition space. The aggression is sustained rather than relaxed by curled planes that “litter” the actual space as well as the mock space, sometimes obviously articulated by it, at other times echoing its proportions. The out-of-proportionateness of the instruments, the seemingly fluid extendedness of the planes, the whole air of instability despite the fixed centrality of the model, creates an absurd space which leaves no object that might be exhibited in it untouched and that is itself the “art.” One recognizes a historical continuity with previous surrealist installations, but notes a new importunity, which not only furthers the idea of the installation as the “final” art form, but shows the artist’s impulsive/compulsive desire to reach into and shake up the world. Oldenburg’s pieces confirm that modern artistic will is far from satisfied with the settled state of the self-contained object, but remains restless, ecological, and political, surviving through Antaean contact with the everyday environment.

Donald Kuspit

Every exhibition can stand a little humor, and if it’s smart humor, so much the better. Smart humor is very much the guiding light of General Idea (AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal), and it has been applied with some dedication to the deflation of high-cultural icons and the iconization of pop-cultural asides—the point at which high and pop intersect being the point at which General Idea’s work gets tough. It is a camp toughness, to be sure, forged from Wildean irony and a sure-fire instinct for the right retro-chic totems. Indeed, it’s the very model of a contemporary, fashionable sensibility, but when it’s on target it cuts deep.

General Idea’s Documenta piece was less a cut and more a pinch. Generally identified as “reconstructed fragments from the room of unknown function in the Villa dei Mistiri of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion,” the piece was an antic meditation on the poodle. This poodle, however, was not a dog, but rather the cultural adaptation of the image of a dog. General Idea’s poodle is the curlicue-limned creature which, personified as a truly social animal, graces cocktail napkins and piano-lounge matchbooks. As materialized by General Idea, the “room of unknown function” could be a manifestation of delirium tremens conjured by Aubrey Beardsley for the delectation of Ronald Firbank. It’s all very silly, and, supplemented by a “What in the World” type videotape sonorously pontificating on the “effete, banal image” of the poodle, it offers an insinuatingly complicit critique of social ritual. Situated as General Idea was, catercorner to Giulio Paolini’s Casabella-elegant installation meditating on the fall of Icarus, the poodles looked positively anarchistic—which, in their own camp assertiveness, they were.

Richard Flood

“What remains is the work’s pure presence (in the sense of the sublime or the insignificant), the destiny of which is to add to the endless chain of discoveries which animate the inscrutable course of art”: Giulio Paolini’s catalogue discussion locates the beauty of art in the realm of pure spirituality. The unfathomableness of art stems from its spirituality, from the longing of every era to place in the artistic image a correspondence to its own conception of the beautiful. All epochs create their own images.

In Del Bello Intelligibile (On the Intelligible Beautiful), Paolini has brought these lofty ideas into the format of small gold-framed texts. In the Fridericianum the visitor goes through a narrow hall flanked on both sides by these gold quotations. At some places the outlines of the frames are merely drawn on the wall. In the Orangerie is The Fall of Icarus, 1981–82, an installation with canvases, Plexiglas pedestals, drawings, chairs, and a tuxedo, all in a state of suspension and instability. This work alludes to one of the most incisive dreams of beauty, that of flying, a dream of absolute freedom whose impossibility of fulfillment is implicit in Icarus’ fall. The fascination of these works by Paolini consists in their material translation of a conception that is settled exclusively in the spiritual. By divesting works of art of their individuality (which is conditioned by their epoch), by seeing in them the spiritual vision common to all of them, he brings the questions of art and of civilization to the timeless point of their fundamental energy. Icarus is a central image of spiritual energy, and his plunge to the sea represents the ever-unfulfilled state of culture. The solemnity and dignity of the claim to spirituality, and the severity of the fall from it, are precisely and excitingly formulated. The claim to totality is denied by its fragmentary reality; this is the perpetual condition of art.

Annelie Pohlen

Marina Abramovic and Ulay are among the few body artists to have risen during, and somewhat gracefully survived, the ’70s. That they are fascinating to look at—with their almost identical hawkish profiles and whippet bodies—has helped lend a compellingness to their repeated endeavor (which occasionally succeeds brilliantly) to set up a trust field that tests the inviolability of their shared persona. Much of the work ultimately directs the observer to the relationship that binds and empowers the performers. Such is the persuasiveness of their mutual involvement that once they have made themselves available to the voyeuristic scrutiny of their observers they are able to move to a more hieratic plateau, where questions of endurance and vulnerability give way to states of contemplation and the suggestion of transcendence.

While their most recent work might be seen as a logical development from their task-oriented performances, it has evolved significantly, through a fascination with therapeutic alchemy, into ceremonial meditation—into rituals that are available to an audience but not dependent on one. At Documenta, for example, they occupied the cupola of the Orangerie, a lovely high-ceilinged octagon punctuated by French windows with views of the manicured lawn and blue sky. Centered in the room, they sat at either end of a long polished table at some remove from the spectators, who watched from behind a delicate rope cordon. On the spectators’ side of the cordon was a water cooler in which floated a sediment of gold leaf. A note invited one to drink because the gold, “if taken, purifies the body.” Just beyond the cordon, on the left, stood a bound sheaf of gold rods. In the distance, at the table, Marina Abramovic and Ulay sat immobile and transfixed, facing each other for a day (for a succession of days). As a tableau it was quite beautiful, a perfect adaptation of the space; as a performance, while it had a political dimension, it was lullingly tranquil. The self-absorption of the performers was not exclusionary; their intensity allowed them to be objectified without becoming depersonalized, so that there was a communicable purity in their action. Rather than seeming a barrier, the cordon echoed the stronger cordon being spun between the performers. Sitting for a while with the other spectators, drifting toward a collective respiration, I noted the lines posted at the entrance:
Being present,
Over long stretches of time,
Till presence rises and falls; from
Material to immaterial, from
Form to formless, from
Instrumental to mental, from
Time to timeless. . . .” Such a clear goal, and so simply, mesmerizingly achieved.

Richard Flood

Hans Haacke had three pieces in Documenta 7. Of the first two, The Master Chocolate-Maker, 1981, traces the career in the art and chocolate industries of Aachen’s Peter Ludwig, and A Breed Apart, 1978, contrasts British Leyland’s advertising with the corporation’s South African involvement. All the content of these pieces can be found in the public domain; Haacke does not ferret out hard secrets, but de-manipulates, or undoes the effects of manipulation, combining one item of information with another. It is as simple as putting two and two together, but it is necessary, and effective, because too often two and two are not seen together. In a complex society information is compartmentalized (into balance sheets, or art reviews) for specialized audiences.

The facts Haacke works with are at once known and not known; what he gives away could be termed “contextual secrets.” This approach is not limited to the subject matter, but extends to the style. In presenting his material Haacke continues to quote; he assimilates and subtly perverts commercial art (the form in which the targets of his investigation like to disguise themselves). Haacke engenders no atmosphere or “art” magic, he does not deal in metaphysics except to levy rationality taxes on them, he gets by with a smattering of aura—and even this is used only to lubricate the contradictions in the subject matter. As an analyst of processes and their properties, he has been consistent in this approach for some twenty years.

If Haacke is an artist who has become increasingly involved in documentary essays, Marcel Broodthaers, to whom Haacke dedicated his third Documenta piece, Oelgemaelde (Oil Painting), was a writer who trespassed on art. With the media-wise sophistication of an American, Haacke often uses image and written matter on the same surface; he plays on their possibilities, but they constitute no fundamental antitheses of his thinking. Broodthaers, on the other hand, never lost sight of the absurdity that links a caption with an image; this became perhaps the most consistent element of his rhetoric. He saw art as a paradigm for wider societal processes, and was seduced by its power to corrupt and co-opt. Broodthaers was always trying to strike a precarious balance between making artworks and denouncing them, between proving himself an artist (and thus compromising himself) and withdrawing from art, between translating his critique into powerful symbols and giving away their plain meaning.

Among those artists seeking a progressive enlightenment Broodthaers was the poet and the symbolist; but the irrational demons he evoked were ruses of reason, cunning disguises, agents provocateurs. He presented them almost as if they were pure fiction: no naming of names, no pinpointing, no attribution to sources. Broodthaers’ symbols resemble those of James Lee Byars, Mario Merz, or Jannis Kounellis about as much as Duchamp’s bottle rack does, and for somewhat the same reason: he does nothing to add to them or to blur their definition. Often he excises ordinary objects from their usual contexts and transports them into a new setting. Their emotional impact has a hard-edged outline. On one level they always remain just things; Broodthaers handles his symbols au pied de la lettre (literally), to use one of his favorite expressions. He himself is about as impressed by the mythical overtones of his props as a cargo handler is of merchandise being packed into crates; accordingly, he shifts them around with wry detachment. In the new setting he presents them in a stark, sometimes unflattering light. His method is juxtaposition, and with it he gets the objects to reveal their symbolic mass.

Décor: a conquest by Marcel Broodthaers, reconstructed in the Fridericianum, codes furniture with firearms in a stylish setting redolent of military exploits. The piece has two sections: potted palms lend an air of colonial arrogation to “The 19th Century,” while “The 20th Century” ominously connects the innocuous pleasures of garden life with power. Both sections play on an outdoors/indoors theme. In addition to urns and candelabra on ledges, “19th Century” includes period artillery pieces, a huge stuffed snake raised like a crosier, formal indoor chairs, and the potted palms. Each element is set apart on its own patch of grasslike carpet which, in the original version of the piece (created for Broodthaers’ show at the ICA in London in 1975), contrasted with the red “indoors” wall-to-wall carpet underlying the whole show. The “20th Century” section has modern garden chairs around a table with an umbrella, a nearly completed puzzle of the Battle of Waterloo on the table, and mean black rifles stacked against the wall—all of this indoors.

Why did Documenta break with its own policy and include a work this old—or indeed any contribution by Broodthaers, who died in 1976? An answer may be suggested by the installation. In London the two sections, shown in adjacent, spacious, and well-proportioned rooms linked by an open doorway, formed a symmetrical arrangement. In Kassel the piece was condensed into a smaller, semicircular space which failed to differentiate between the two sections. The installation, sealed off from the public by rope, could only be viewed from adjacent parts of the show; it was “on stage,” in an esthetic cage. True, it would have been difficult for a tourist-oriented show to have allowed the crowds into Décor. But between the exclusion of the viewer and the spatial distortion, the character of the work was drastically altered. It was now a collection of items rather than an environment; the viewer could not experience the curious tension generated by the auratic, exclusionary zones of grassy carpet, of a spurious outdoors imposed like postage stamps on the indoors—especially since Documenta also did not reproduce the ICA’s red carpet, which was instrumental in carrying that idea. The Documenta piece was less articulate and more hermetic, less of a controversial issue and more of a monument. As such, it was made part of a symbolist/monumentalist group (or “tradition,” as the buzzword now goes).

This new direction for art—on a pedestal—is also one of the issues in Haacke’s installation Oelgemaelde: Hommage à Marcel Broodthaers, 1982. Two images face each other across twenty-odd feet of red carpet. One is a realistic portrait of the current president of the United States in oil on canvas and meticulously executed by Haacke. Painted after a photograph taken by Michael Evans, probably while a heckler was speaking, it shows a surly, scowling Ronald Reagan. The painting comes in a heavy gold frame and is reverentially lit from above by a small brass lamp. Museum-style, a brass title plate below the frame names the installation. A red velvet rope on two stanchions keeps the populace away; though it looks sumptuous and festive, it is in fact the kind of rope used in American banks and post offices where people have to line up—a rather lowly symbol of power. The stanchions, however, are modified; instead of the usual chrome, they are brass. Reagan is thus shown in 19th-century splendor, echoing Broodthaers’ practice of selecting 19th-century forms and dwelling on their persistence in the present. The rope in particular refers to the chains that kept people out of Broodthaers’ Proprieté privée, shown at Documenta in 1972, which demonstrated that it would be more apt to say “proprieté privante” (depriving property).

Across the carpet there is a blowup of a photograph, taken by Haacke, showing the Bonn demonstration for peace and against Reagan during his visit there just a week or so before the opening of the show. Its topicality defines the picture as journalism, in contradistinction to the “awe-inspiring” conventional artwork facing it. For the same reason it is enlarged like a contact sheet, with sprocket holes and some of the adjacent frames to the right and left indicating that the picture is one of a mechanically produced series. There is no rope to keep people away from it.

Oelgemaelde abounds in conspicuously “artistic” features new to Haacke’s work, but more than the style, the angle of attack has changed. Haacke used to denounce art operations by pointing up the politics behind them; here he denounces politics with art. But his display of creative skill is balanced, or instantly denied: except for the photograph, all the elements are in borrowed styles. So Haacke is still quoting, but now he quotes art where in the past he would quote balance sheets and commercial art.

In Haacke’s new work, facts are taken for granted; he heads straight for opinion. His reasoning is sound; Leyland and Mobil needed to have their strategies exposed, while Reagan’s actions are common knowledge. So the facts about Reagan have already been spoken; and what good has it done? Is it surprising that Haacke has lost patience with the documentary approach? The documentarist has turned into an aggressive satirist. Where he once set fact against fact in a smooth, deviously homogeneous style, he now arranges clashes of styles (between the photograph and the rest of the work) while the “facts” are merely a nodding reminder of what is known.

Oelgemaelde is a satire in symbols, imputing attributes of power and glory to the President while denouncing him for (or through) the qualities thus stated. But Oelgemaelde also contains many tongue-in-cheek references to art. The work, in fact, offers a crash course in the stylistic elements of recent Pure Art, with a capital P and a capital A. (One of the more brilliant touches was added inadvertently—that is, for unfathomable reasons of their own—by Documenta 7’s organizers: Haacke’s satire of the saber-rattling military big spender was flanked by two nostalgic night-fighter skyscapes by Jack Goldstein, one of searchlights and one of tracer ammo.)

Oelgemaelde is oblique, not in the artist’s taste. On the contrary, it is rendered in the taste he judges necessary for the task: a taste imputed to Reagan, propounded by organizers Johannes Gachnang and Rudi Fuchs, paraphrasing Jannis Kounellis and James Lee Byars, mocking the “Return to Painting,” indicating nationalist subject matter, but reasserting Broodthaers’ unrelenting exploration of traditional décor and symbols. The fact that Haacke finds as much to cite in recent art as he used to find in balance sheets, real estate registers, and statements to stockholders does not bode well for the art thus recycled. His latest work reflects the confluence of irrational reactionary politics with irrational trends in current art, which could easily be exploited to lend authority to power. Yet he attempts a bold wager, a kind of reverse co-optation: can the means of this art be quoted, albeit ironically, for a progressive perspective? His confidence in the effectiveness of the “reversed” (or deflected) symbols remains dubious enough to be indicated twice: he has painted an unpleasant-looking Reagan as if to make sure that the pompous gold frame will not be misread; and, having borrowed several styles, the dedication “Hommage à Marcel Broodthaers” comes close to borrowing a signature as well.


Annelie Pohlen’s reviews were translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.