PRINT September 1997


“What can be the meaning and purpose of documenta today, at the close of this century, when similar large-scale exhibitions have been called into question, and often for very good reasons?” Curator Catherine David asks this question in the short guide accompanying Documenta X, the current installment of the quintennial exhibition that opened in Kassel, Germany, on June 21. Her own answer can hardly be summed up in a couple of sentences; it must be extracted from the complex event she has staged. Radically transcending the confines of the traditional show, Documenta, ominously abbreviated as a lowercase “d” (with a orangish-red “X”) on posters all over Kassel, consists of three main parts: an art exhibition spread out in various venues; 100 days of lectures by a wide range of artists, writers, and philosophers; and finally, The Book—an 830-page Odyssey of theoretical essays, literary texts, and wide-ranging imagery that, according to the editor’s preface, seeks to “indicate a political context for the interpretation of artistic activities at the close of the twentieth century.” As if this weren’t enough, there is also a series of film, television, and Internet projects.

David considers the three parts of her Documenta equally important, which makes a swift assessment of the project as a whole impossible—one hundred lectures by speakers such as Edward W. Said, Rem Koolhaas, and Etienne Balibar, not to mention a seven-pound compendium of poetic and philosophical reading, will take time to digest. Since most visitors are unlikely to spend more than a couple of days in Kassel, one may wonder who is really going to see Documenta X fully.

Given the wildly divergent responses from the international press during the first weeks, one does question whether journalists have actually seen the same exhibition. While the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung hailed a highly successful exhibition, “superior to its lame predecessors,” and compared it favorably to Harald Szeemann’s “grandiose 1972 panorama,” others panned the show mercilessly. This year’s Hilton Kramer award goes to the critic from The Times of London. Calling Documenta X a disastrous end of the line (“a tragedy is being enacted in the small German town of Kassel”), he denounced the show as a piece of “cultural fascism” and declared, “If I had an effigy before me now of Catherine David, the French exhibition-maker whose role in this tragedy will be described to you in a moment, I would be sticking pins into it.”

Of course, like the Whitney Biennial, Documenta is a show many writers love to hate. Still, while David’s refusal to announce a list of participants in advance may have fanned expectations, it also exacerbated an inevitably ornery press reaction. The curator’s withholding of information in fact so upset the art market that the European Union of Gallerists filed an official complaint shortly before the opening.

In the end, whatever one’s own reaction to the actual results of David’s endeavor, it’s hard to deny that Documenta X broaches some serious questions about the possibilities of exhibiting art and—more important—about contemporary culture as such. With this in mind, Artforum asked me to query fourteen art-world writers and curators about their expectations of the show, its successes and failures, and its likely influence on the future of large exhibitions and art in general.

Daniel Birnbaum

What were your expectations for Documenta X? Were they challenged or confirmed?

JAN HOET (artistic director, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Gent; director, Documenta IX): I expected a quiet and theoretical Documenta. Was it too safe and academic to expect a beautiful museum exhibition, with breathing space, “visual thinking,” and poetry?

CHRISTOPH BLASE (critic, Cologne): My expectations, at a deep level, were confirmed—Documenta offered nothing inspiring. It’s one big textbook containing only isolated pages of interest.

SVETLANA BOYM (professor of Slavic and comparative literature, Harvard University): I expected Documenta to be grand high-art entertainment and it was exactly that. As much as the show professed to he un- or even anti-spectacular, it turned into a kind of intellectual carnival with the largest concentration of polite and relatively sober people dressed in black that I had ever seen.

DAN CAMERON (senior curator, New Museum of Contemporary Art): My hopes, grounded in the fact that Catherine David was the first real intellectual to make a Documenta in decades, were tempered by a sense of mounting indignation that she was mistreating her colleagues (especially the press), and that she had shown great arrogance toward American art (refusing to come to Los Angeles until forced, etc.). In the end, however, the exhibition, while monotonous and humorless, rewards prolonged viewing and offers a strong case for framing urbanism as the core issue in the field of visual representation.

BORIS GROYS (philosopher, Cologne): Documenta went off, essentially, as I had suspected. Of course, one might have expected that Catherine David would have made more compromises. For her determination one can certainly congratulate her.

DONALD KUSPIT (art historian, New York): I expected an overview of contemporary art, showing it in all its contradictory richness. Instead, I got a nostalgic reprise of retardataire radicalism, largely from the ’60s, with an overlay of contemporary work. I found this more pointless than challenging. I felt it was an attempt to indoctrinate the audience into a position that was no longer socially or artistically valid. It carried the idea of art-as-information or art-as-archive, correlate with the idea of art-as-politics (and little else), to absurdity.

LISA LIEBMANN (critic, New York): During her press conference at Goethe House last spring, Catherine David very effectively saw to it that my “expectations” of Documenta X remain vague. Her style of delivery to the gathered presshounds was Delphic—and foxy. Only when pressed by increasingly irascible and insistent questions about the content, both thematic and literal, of the exhibition did she finally, and rather contemptuously emit a list of American artists to be included. (No printed list was made available.) She rattled off the names at the breakneck pace of a country auctioneer. What was one to make of a show whose American contingent included Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, Robert Adams, Vito Acconci, Kerry James Marshall, Lari Pittman, and Andrea Zittel? As for artists of any other nationality, she kept pretty mum, preferring instead to drop the occasional name of an architect (e.g., Rem Koolhaas), a filmmaker (Pasolini), or—a category made much of—a “thinker” (Foucault). Her press conference style—a style, it turns out, so consistent as to be a form of signature—was at times dismissive, somewhat theatrically so, but for the most part dispassionately matter-of-fact (though the facts were few).

In general, the Franco-American impasse—bizarrely enacted here, on high cultural Germanic turf—seemed acute. There was a lot of grumbling, that day at Goethe House, about her having wasted everyone’s time disseminating noninformation. I felt differently. Through her various, often obliquely eloquent assertions, digressions, ellipses, and withholdings, I got the impression that Documenta X would address the subject of urbanism between 1945 and the present and would encompass some record of utopias and dystopias, of realities for better or worse, of traditions conserved or revolutionized, involving documentations, depictions, interpretations, etc., in all mediums. History itself seemed to be her point of departure. It seemed impossible not to notice that her position was also one of refusal, of resistance to commercialism and hype in the contemporary art world—to the cult of prevailing winds. Nothing if not a vintage ’68 idealist, but a smart, on-the-ball one whose thinking hadn’t ossified. I liked her. I wanted to see her show. I suspected that it would most decidedly be her show. I also suspected that despite the dawning certainty that I would be deprived, during a couple of days’ stay in Kassel, of large doses of my favorite kinds of things—grand abstractions, sexy painting, a next wave of “It” girls and boys—there would be plenty in it for me.

ULRICH LOOCK (director, Kunsthalle Bern): I expected (1) a critical treatment of the digital “mediatization” of art; (2) an elaboration of the connections and contradictions between the electronic globalization of the art world and the possibility for global participation by artists; and (3) an analysis of the connections between the tendency to dissolve the concept of the work in favor of those of social practice, process, and participation, as well as an analysis of the far-reaching dominance of the culture industry. But above all I had expected, despite everything, that art would be realized in its potential for rupture, difference, and contradiction.

My expectations were not fulfilled. In general, the exhibition was dominated by digitally mediated works—but what was shown was naive and not really thought out in many cases. The White Cube was simply swapped for the Black Box. The result was light works in the dark, plenty of frontal, static shots, a compulsory community with other members of an invisible, unknown public—in short, a massive conditioning of the observer as the prerequisite of perception.

Artists from outside Europe and the Americas remained largely excluded, with Europeans like Rem Koolhaas held in reserve to analyze the countries of origin of those absent. In the end, the show does nothing but demonstrate how “electronic globalization” and “networks” can veil the unchanged facts of postcolonial hegemony: that non-Western producers are excluded from the media that Western cultures have controlled for centuries and where the seat of cultural world power, despite everything, remains.

And despite all the “social projects” from younger artists at Documenta, the analysis of the culture industry is still left to Haacke, Broodthaers, and Graham. Given all the talk of the Web, what is their connection?

CATHERINE MILLET (editor, Art Press, Paris): Like a lot of other people, I was struck by Catherine David’s remarks explaining (or not explaining) her plans by quoting more theoreticians than artists. She so maintained her attitude and so delayed the announcement of the artists invited to participate that one might have hoped it was a strategy to build suspense until the day of the opening. I went to Kassel with this hope. Who has the energy to go to Kassel out of simple professional duty? But this small hope was dashed, because Catherine David executed her plans to the letter. The selection of artists and the choice of works do not reflect the paths of creation today, ignoring entire sections of it, such as the exploration of our relationship to the body. It asserts what art, according to Catherine David, should be.

MOLLY NESBIT (art historian, New York): This is not a time for expectations. So much the better. The ambiguities of our situation certainly did not prevent Catherine David and her team from giving us an extraordinary Documenta. There is so much more than art here.

This Documenta’s excess means that there is no quick fix, no package, no announcement exactly, no quick summary possible; there is instead a sweeping but sampled presentation of the problem of art’s place in the now. One is meant to see this initially while walking, starting at the train station with Pistoletto’s regal Minus Objects, Hélio Oiticica’s trans-objects, both groups casting the long shadow of the éminence; they stand near Rem Koolhaas’ new papered walls, photomurals that brightly and darkly query the ongoing development of the Pearl River Delta: “China is Near II: Where,” asks the wall, “are the holes in globalization?”

In front of the Koolhaas walls, David has positioned something else by someone else, Matthew Ngui, whose idea of order is mediated and performed by cooking, an art where, he says, “you can order and eat delicious poh-piah.” What then becomes a hole? What else is an object? What was your last Chinese meal? Here and elsewhere in the exhibition David and her team have installed work in contingencies like this, the slips and gaps between pieces exposing more than anything the problem of knowing, much less seeing, our time.

And yet the organizers are modest: they have not presumed to solve the problem or reduce it prematurely to geometrically crossed systems or hundred-year-old formulae. They have merely asked us to adopt a different position, to look from a higher than usual altitude to try to find a different kind of base for art.

The catalogue puts all of this together and gives the concerns of this Documenta a second, armchair life in the mind. The texts bring many of the concerns of ’70s political culture forward in a new way. Ethics takes precedence over linguistics. But the art in the exhibition often reaches like this too: words pale in Richter’s Atlas, in Broodthaers’ Museum, and in Ecke Bonk and Richard Hamilton’s typosophic theatre with its luminous Wilson Cloud chamber. And then there is Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler’s Rabelaisian Poetics Project, a den of distant, overstimulated memories seemingly remade by the strains of LA punk rock, voice-over, video projection, paint, and solid puffs of floating brain. Are these the holes in globalization? Yes. Keep walking into them, consciously, seeing art’s part. The mirror phase of the late twentieth century is now over. This Documenta has shown us how so.

What do you find most interesting about the exhibition? Is there a particular piece you find especially exciting?

CHRISTOPH BLASE: What’s most interesting about it is to observe its failure. The only discovery was Lygia Clark’s works from the ’60s.

ULRICH LOOCK: I liked Lothar Baumgarten’s exposed-plate book layout on the wall, for several reasons. Among other things, it reflected the exhibition as a whole: the exhibition as essay, to be read, with pictures. The thesislike quality of this essay gradually reduces it to the placement of a specific mode of transmission (of art) in the foreground. Theses without objects, the name of Catherine David in the place of the author. The form of the essay, but as if it had written itself.

ROBERT STORR (curator, Museum of Modern Art): The pillars of the exhibition are large bodies of work dating back thirty years. Some—like Richter’s Atlas, Pistoletto’s Minus Objects, and the work of Lygia Clark—are still very potent, but rather than recalling the ferment and conflicts of the ’60s the overall effect is austere, archival, or, in some cases, positively elegiac. Even major works tend to resonate in a melancholy, minor key.

That tone pervades the entire exhibition; the best new work is too often muffled by David’s relentlessly historicizing tendency. True, much of that new work is moody and subdued; among the standouts are Liisa Roberts’ and Stan Douglas’ films, Jörg Herold’s video, and William Kentridge’s animation. Of the handful of things that successfully defy David’s insistently “retro-perspective” view (her words) are the contributions of Andrea Zittel (one could interpret the whole of Documenta X as David’s well-furnished “escape vehicle”), Steve McQueen, and the collaboration of Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler. Tucked away in the remote corner, Oursler and Kelley were the only artists to look back on the ’60s and ’70s with the rage, humor, and unsentimental sharpness matching that of the period. It was a jolting relief to find them at last.

RICHARD FLOOD (chief curator, Walker Art Center): What I found interesting was the prelude to the exhibition: how increasingly at odds the curator became with the press. Catherine David’s determination to keep the theoretical construct of the event front and center precluded the naming of artist’s names. It was as if the commissioner was being called as a hostile witness who chose persistently to invoke the Fifth Amendment. As a result, the exhibition ever so gradually began to turn into a sociological phenomenon that could be measured by yet one more negative encounter with the very people whose jobs were to report on that encounter. It was a shame because the theory was the point; it just wasn’t news.

What I found most significant was the exhibition’s logo: the black, sans serif, lowercase “d” that is canceled/enhanced by a bright orange “X.” Interpretations ran from the perception of a double denial to the more probable cancellation of traditional Documenta expectations to the more insidious negation of the Deutschland hypothesis. Whatever its intent, it was a powerful and controversial symbol.

BORIS GROYS: I found the logo especially impressive. With the crossed-out “d,” the death of the Documenta tradition is immediately announced. At the same time, however, the literal meaning of the exhibition’s title is restored. Documenta X arises from the desire to return to the realism of the nineteenth century through the use of new artistic means, to depart from the revolt of the avant-garde against the world and to make of art a mere document of the world as this world ostensibly already appears. In the exhibition itself only a few artists impressed me as being able to extricate themselves from its grip and to make their individual position visible: Jeff Wall, Hans Jürgen Syberberg. Almost all the others were visually drowned in the general monotony.

MADELEINE GRYNSZTEJN (curator of contemporary art, Carnegie Museum of Art): It is unusual for a show of this scale to be intellectually cogent, yet Documenta presents a highly specific interpretative point of view, and I respect its valid and rigorous theoretical underpinnings, in particular its focus on the urban realm as site and subject matter for contemporary-art practices. I appreciate the focus on underrecognized artists and movements from the ’60s, with their positivistic beliefs in the city and in the possibility of asserting human needs within the metropolis. In addition, there were wonderful highlights, particularly the works of Carsten Höller and Rosemarie Trockel, William Kentridge, Martin Kippenberger, Kerry James Marshall, Hélio Oiticica, Thomas Schütte, and Andrea Zittel. Catherine David is to be congratulated for shifting the international exhibition model from one that is strictly visual, object-bound, and static, to one that is discursive, multidisciplinary, and takes place over an extended period of time (e.g., “100 Days–100 Guests”). Her position is determined but not fixed; she incorporates numerous other voices into her project, and she reminds us to think about and take seriously the contemporary artwork and its underlying contexts and motivations.

DONALD KUSPIT: I found nothing particularly interesting or uninteresting about the exhibition. Once one understood the obsolete principle that motivated the show, it all fell into predictable place. For all that, I found that Pistoletto’s ’60s works in the Kulturbahnhof retained their significance.

LISA LIEBMANN: One of the most interesting things about Documenta X had to do with experiencing various workaday parts of Kassel, on the way to, from, and through major exhibition zones: this was not the familiar Easter-egg-hunt for art-about-town. Nor did the curator expend energy on Kassel’s areas of obvious beauty, such as its neoclassical park, which was allowed to be just that. The curator’s intense focus on urbanism was confirmed at the very heart of the exhibition—the center of the main floor of the Fridericianum—as a deliberately slapdash installation of plangently idealistic, realized architectural projects (in Amsterdam) from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s designed by Aldo van Eyck.

Another interesting aspect of the show had to do with European takes on American art, and vice versa. For example, Documenta’s overwhelmingly European, mostly German flow of visitors this summer will have been exposed to a heavy dose of postwar American street and landscape photography. The curator, to my view, went overboard on Robert Adams (hundreds of pictures, it seemed, of Colorado subdivisions). But Helen Levitt’s film, In the Street, East Harlem (1945–46), came as a kind of lightning bolt of verismo from the past to Europeans and Americans, skeptics and enthusiasts, alike.

On the other hand, I have sometimes wondered why so many artists of the Pop-Beat generation seemed to venerate Öyvind Fahlström. (I had only seen a few cartoonish drawings with fairly inscrutable allegories.) The Little General (Pinball Machine), an elaborate and very trippy table sculpture from 1967–68, to be “played” by paper figures made of porn and politics in equal measure, was a Mod rendition of a mad, mad world that at least in part answered my question.

Among the most memorable if not necessarily “best” pieces in the show was a collaborative project by Rosemarie Trockel and Carsten Höller: a state-of-the-art pig sty (reportedly realized at a cost of about $100,000) in a hedged area on the edge of the park, inhabited by a wallowing male pig, two nursling sows, and perhaps a dozen piglets. I thought the piece was an affectionately satirical allegory of the typical Cologne-based artist’s household. My husband, Brooks Adams, who is not a pig, took it at face value: a pastoral respite within a highly intellectualized context—a good excuse, in other words, to enjoy the park. (Either way, the Höller-Trockel project seemed to be a part of a minimovement wherein nature, with but a touch of culture, is art.)

Also memorable: Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1995–96), a feature-length documentary by Johan Grimonprez about terrorism, ’70s style—brilliant, La Femme Nikita-esque editing, disconcertingly eloquent and attractive perpetrators, and a long-lingering side-effect, guaranteed to all, of heightened jitters in airports.

My best-in-show prize, however, goes to William Kentridge of Johannesburg, for History of the Main Complaint, 1996, a beautifully drawn, intensely painful short animated film about a businessman and his tormenting conscience—I’ll leave it at that. A must-see.

LARS NITTVE (director, Louisiana Museum): Since the exhibition as a whole is so dry and “negative,” the single good artwork really has a chance to stand out. In my view this happens in the older works, by Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Pistoletto. I also really like Richard Hamilton’s collaboration with Ecke Bonk, and the Mike Kelley/Tony Oursler room.

DAN CAMERON: By far, the most interesting part of Documenta X is the book. The second most interesting part was Catherine David’s extreme sense of focus and rigor. The third most interesting part was the exhibition itself, and the way its trajectory worked as a microcosm of the city that was its subject. There were also a fair number of outstanding works by both new and historical figures: Öyvind Fahlström, Johan Grimonprez, Stan Douglas, Liisa Roberts, Lothar Baumgarten, Hans Haacke, Christian Philipp Muller, Richard Hamilton, Christine Hill, Mike Kelley/Tony Oursler, Carsten Höller/Rosemarie Trockel, William Kentridge, Rem Koolhaas, Helen Levitt, Dan Graham, Mariella Mosier, Gabriel Orozco, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Nancy Spero, Ed van der Elsken, and Andrea Zittel.

JAN HOET: The retro aspect. Marcel Broodthaers, Gerhard Richter, Pistoletto, Richard Hamilton, Reinhard Mucha and Emilio Prini’s work from 1967.

CATHERINE MILLET: For me, the most coherent and convincing collections of works were found in the rooms of Michelangelo Pistoletto, Lygia Clark, and Richard Hamilton. I think it’s unfortunate that these works are already somewhat “historic.” As far as artists of younger generations, I was most struck by those who used the filmic image, particularly William Kentridge and Joachim Koester. What a shame that Catherine David did not also include Pierre Huyghe, who has also been doing original work in this vein.

Are there any serious problems with the show? If so, how would you define them?

JAN HOET: Art is being seen here too much as through a book about art and presented as a crossed-out text in which only the commas, the periods, the parentheses, and other punctuation marks were sometimes refreshing.

DAN CAMERON: Sadly, Documenta X is hampered by a number of quite serious flaws. Perhaps the most grievous is the curator’s anathema toward visual art in favor of blind theory, which caused her to miscalculate wildly in a few areas, such as her presentation of historical figures like Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. Rather than understand them as social revolutionaries working through art, the fetishized display of their works (without any but the most cursory explanations) made them come across as exotic producers of colored cloths and reworked utilitarian objects.

RICHARD FLOOD: The most serious problem was what appeared to be an assumption that artists from places other than Europe or the United States were incapable of making an authentic statement if their work conformed to “Western” notions of artistic production, i.e., abstract painting, conceptual sculpture, or canonized photographic practice à la Robert Adams or Helen Levitt. In an exhibition that rigorously eschewed the body and its measure, it was South Americans like Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Tunga whose works were used to represent the body and the social potential of sculpture. Issues concerning narrative and representation were essentially represented by those who possessed what David deemed “strong alterities of contemporary culture, particularly the Arab, Muslim, and African worlds,” which unfortunately consigned those artists’ films and videos to discreet single screenings or to pedestal-bound monitors where they functioned much like floral displays.

BORIS GROYS: The exhibition wanted to get away from the traditional media like painting and sculpture and move toward the technical media like photography, video, and computers. That’s obviously OK. But the emphasis on these media becomes an excuse for mediocrity and banality in the case of all too much work, and the black-and-white aesthetic is too often used as a synonym for intellectualism. Even if we’ve known since Goethe’s Faust that theory is gray, it doesn’t follow that everything gray is theoretical. The exhibition suffers severely from this false deduction. Over and above this, when art totally abandons the terrain of the traditional media, it enters into direct competition with film, the commercial video clip, and other media art forms. Documenta X shied away from this comparison and went only halfway.

MADELEINE GRYNSZTEJN: Within Catherine David’s concentrated framework the artist as social anthropologist and/or documentarian received primary emphasis. (There are a number of significant artists who do not fit within this particular framework and arc therefore absent from Documenta.) While I appreciate Documenta’s focus on unsung artists from the previous decades, I would only wish for the presence of a greater number of young artists working in the same vein today.

DONALD KUSPIT: The use of the computer was somewhat pretentious and inadequate. The systems involved were closed and simpleminded. Also, I thought there was a certain condescension to non-Western artists, who were elevated into neo-exotics. Finally, the logo-small “d” with large “X” over it—came close to being fascistic, whether leftist or rightist. “d” for “Documenta” (documents?) was overridden/overwritten not so much by the number ten as by the “X” that destroys. The whole thing had the look of a revised hammer and sickle and/or swastika—a negative totalitarian cast.

LISA LIEBMANN: The biggest problem of Documenta X was one that is likely to afflict almost any big, international show that tries to break new ground: too many careless installations of works, too much so-so art. (Rudi Fuchs’ Documenta VII, in 1982, was the only one of these things I’ve seen that actually looked pretty consistently good, but then again he set out to create a pantheon of elegantissimi.)

ULRICH LOOCK: I find it massively problematic. That the works of the representatives of an older generation of artists (Pistoletto, Oiticica, Clark) look so much better and appear to be so much more interesting than many of the newer works cannot be chalked up to either my own conservatism or the weakness of current productions in general. Beyond this, there is the exclusion of corporeality and spatiality in favor of the dominance of a visuality that is much more exclusive and illusionary than the visuality of painting ever was. One could, somewhat pointedly, designate this Documenta as the ultimate Painting Exhibition.

CATHERINE MILLET: The main problem of this exhibition was the organizer’s contempt for the contemporary scene. Underestimating her audience, she seemed to want to give them a lesson: “Look at what Pistoletto did in the ’60s!” Or: “No use looking for futile information in the catalogue, cultivate yourselves by reading the book.” Because there isn’t really a catalogue for this Documenta, there’s that “book,” a Reader’s Digest version of culture in the second half of the twentieth century.

MOLLY NESBIT: Those trying to understand this Documenta as an art exhibition and only an art exhibition will find themselves chasing their tail, probably barking, and not having much fun. The art brought to Kassel is being shown stretched in physical time and space, as an accumulation of images, like a film or video or performance and as a tactile expansion into spaces both built, geographic, and economic. And art is being shown engaged and affected by those very conditions it is stretching into. Obviously the physical and technical limits of Documenta keep the ambition to reset our sense of where and how art exists from being realized. But these are not the kinds of ambitions that can be realized. They are more like the questions that one carries around in pockets, the small hard change for life.

LARS NITTVE: It seems that Catherine David clearly wanted to avoid the most obvious choices, and the result of this is that all decisions seem to follow a kind of negative logic. As a viewer you walk around with a feeling of lack. The concept has a stronger presence than the art.

ROBERT STORR: David’s exhibition treats the dashed hopes and outstanding promises of her aesthetic and political heroes with a curious detachment. In all hers is a highly formalist presentation of predominately anti-formalist art; a distanced and distancing synthesis of once imperative propositions as well as what would, in another context, be fresh new ones.

Although David’s approach is steeped in the traditions of cultural rebellion, her “parcours”—or recommended path through the show—brooked no “dérives” or “drifting” as Situationist Guy Debord called the systematic disorganization of modern society by whimsical meandering. In a way that typifies the whole show, Debord’s contribution to adversarial postmodernism is honored in the breach.

In all David’s Documenta is serious, detailed, and demanding. It is also controlling, defensive and downbeat. In interviews she has admitted to partially sharing Jean Clair’s much publicized distaste for most contemporary art. Clair, who curated the lugubrious Venice Biennale of 1995, wants to turn back the clock to the late ’30s or postwar ’40s. David has chosen circa 1968. All of these were conflicted and decisive moments. Nostalgia does not suit them. Certainly it does not suit this moment.

Whatever use may still be made of the upheavals that found their focus in 1968 and its aftermath, the crucial factors to retain are a pressing sense of actuality, an embrace of fertile contradiction and an enthusiasm for open debate—especially debate of the sort likely to throw set-piece arguments off-track. One can only hope that the organizers of Documenta XI will take the pall this show has cast over vanguards recent and current as provocation to honor the spirit that than the letter of 1968 next time around. Better yet, let’s just give the ’60s a rest. There is plenty for us to critically address—and even celebrate—without such “arrière-pensees.”

What conclusions do you draw from Documenta X concerning the future of very large exhibitions?

MADELEINE GRYNSZTEJN: Documenta’s example should encourage the presentation of new art within a rigorously argued framework. To this extent I look forward to the Johannesburg, Istanbul, and Berlin biennales, and of course to the 1999 Carnegie International.

JAN HOET: In a world where culture is often collapsing I’m delighted there is still a possibility in large exhibitions for keeping the faith.

SVETLANA BOYM: Documenta should take a tip from Andrea Zittcl and become a movable “escape vehicle.” It doesn’t have to remain stuck in Kassel. Kassel exemplified a postwar city, virtually destroyed during the Second World War, saved with the help of radical artistic initiative and the Marshall Plan. Kassel was a borderline city, close to the GDR. Other cities in Europe and elsewhere better embody this liminality in the ’90s. I think in the spirit of global culture and local interventions, Documenta should move from place to place. How about Ljubljana, St. Petersburg, Königsberg, or Naples for the next European megashow?

DAN CAMERON: Catherine David has proved that you can make an exhibition on this scale and still adhere to a very precise set of principles. Unfortunately, this may be a proposition that is best left in the future to authors and book publishers, since contemporary art is a much more challenging and heterogeneous world on its own than she seems to be willing to accept.

RICHARD FLOOD: I suspect the exhibition’s major contribution will be its emphatic embrace of new technology. The commissions for the Internet are where the artistic energy resides and where the artists function free of the exhibition’s theoretical footprint. David’s awareness that the audiences for international exhibitions are potentially much greater than those who take the plane and the train to the event is an inspired and necessary contribution to the field. I also appreciated the serial publication of documents, the magazine that led up to the exhibition and the “100 Days–100 Guests” series of lectures, screenings, and performances. The former presaged Documenta’s Calvinist severity and the latter humanized it.

BORIS GROYS: Large exhibitions will continue to be put on, because it’s easier to get more money than less. I hope, though, that those putting on the exhibitions will become more courageous, renounce false claims of representation, and present their personal positions with more force than has generally been the case until now. Catherine David can serve as a good model for this.

DONALD KUSPIT: Just that the wrong curator was chosen (as confirmed by the confused interviews in Artforum and Art Press). Large exhibitions can be quite successful, depending on the choice and installation of the works.

LISA LIEBMANN: There is no conclusion to be drawn concerning the future of very large exhibitions. But I do hope there is one: I appreciate any pretext for travel, and all food for thought.

ULRICH LOOCK: I have since begun to think that Documenta today is a no-win situation. I hold Catherine David in high esteem for having thrown herself into this situation without reservation. Documenta will only have a real future, when somebody brings to it a very, very good idea.

MOLLY NESBIT: Exhibitions should proceed from larger and larger (but not simple) propositions. Under such conditions, in the high altitudes, say, physically they could and should grow. However, it will not be possible to view all of this in the old ways. Along with the challenge to think between the given ethical and political models, comes the need to see between the sights. This seeing between requires a different kind of seeing than that which most art lovers use and long for. The eye will not be met here by a work that summarizes a totality, but instead by works that use their forms to open out into a flow that no one’s eyes can contain or resolve. Minds and eyes must slip now, consciously. Existence is everywhere.

LARS NITTVE: We must find ways of avoiding the “monolithic” perspective of the single curator. We have to give back the initiative to art itself, without ending up in complete chaos. Good basic curatorial footwork may be the key.

What conclusions do you draw concerning the future of art?

CHRISTOPH BLASE: The time of art as social work is over. The question of visual quality is back. Only a few works reflected this: Liam Gillick, Stan Douglas, Steve McQueen, Fischli/Weiss, Höller/Trockel.

DAN CAMERON: The future of art is very much tied in to the continuing exploration of media, especially film and video. For better or worse, it is also tied into these media exhibitions, whether they take place in Germany, the US, Korea, or South Africa. This is the world we live in today, and the public’s interest in new art seems to be greater with each passing year.

RICHARD FLOOD: The future of art is dependent on artists and their awareness that history is a liquid medium. I feel pretty confident that they will continue to swim against the prevailing current whether it is leading to the weedy shores of the Yahoos or the manicured pastures of the Houyhnhnms.

BORIS GROYS: I can only hope that art won’t be subjected to a new, bureaucratically established medial realism for the long term. Bureaucracy is interested in the critical inventory of the world because it wants to regulate and rule the world. Art, on the other hand, has always been interested in the other of the world—in order to make itself impervious to regulation. Perhaps this impulse survives, however, much more in mass culture, with its preference for E.T., vampires, Terminators, and other representations of transcendence.

DONALD KUSPIT: I think art has a great future, providing that artists do not take instructions from philosophers and ideologues, and other would-be legislators of art history. The whole issue is the creation of an imaginative space, not the repetition of public space and subservience to theory.

LISA LIEBMANN: To quote the irrepressible Catherine David—That’s a stupid question!

CATHERINE MILLET: The concept Documenta X principally defends—art as social testimony, indeed, art that infiltrates the social or urban fabric—meshes with certain reactionary points of view, such as those of Jean Clair, director of the Venice Biennale two years ago, and according to whom art must justify itself through a function: to offer humanity a reflection of itself, or else to help human beings organize their environment. This conception is the opposite of one that sees art as a means of breaking with the community, putting it into perspective, and claiming a place for individual freedom. I hope the future of art heads in the latter direction rather than that of 1995 Venice Biennale and the current Documenta.