PRINT September 1987


SITTING IN THE CAFE PAULUS, Kassel, in early June, one heard the familiar mixture of debate, comment, and gossip that abounds there every five years or so when this soulless West German town becomes the site of the big international art show called Documenta. Documenta 8 had just opened—it runs until September 20—and artists, dealers, collectors, curators, and critics both professional and volunteer were prowling its spaces for the quintennial fix. Between times, all these people descended on the café, to exchange both the kind of dishes served by waiters and the verbal sort. Thumbs were down. It wasn’t that the art wasn’t worth it—a lot of it was—or that the curatorial ideas weren’t well-timed to the moment—there were some that were; but the whole effect was of something very flat, a kind of curatorial antiartness. There is such a thing as being on the side of art and artists, not necessarily agreeing with a direction art’s going, of course not expecting to like a lot of it, but basically believing that things happen in art faster than we’re ready to comprehend them and so our cues should come from it. A lot of professionals, however, prefer to put art on a leash, not to let it go too far, and when it does they show an impulse rather like the pet-owner who sends his naughty highness to obedience school. Unfortunately, such was the atmosphere at Documenta 8. So when one Cafe Paulus critic observed she’d heard a friend refer to the show as a real dog-umenta, it seemed too good a scrap for us not to scoop as a prelude to next month, when Artforum contributors will discuss Documenta 8 in detail.