PRINT March 2001


Documenta 11

THESE DAYS IT'S TRULY CHALLENGING to make a resonant curatorial statement amid the chaotic conversation that surrounds proliferating megaexhibitions and regional biennials. Okwui Enwezor, artistic director of Documenta 11, and his cocurators (Carlos Basualdo, Ute Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya) have found a new way to make their voices heard, turning Documenta into a series of events that will crisscross the globe for over a year before settling in Kassel, Germany, the show's traditional host city, in June 2002. Enwezor says of the uprooting: “Kassel, of course, remains important, but only in the sense that it is connected to a network of knowledge-producing spaces and not isolated from them.”

The idea is to stage four off-site “platforms”—each made up of lectures and panel discussions addressing a specific theme—that will culminate in a fifth, the exhibition itself. “Democracy Unrealized,” to be held in Vienna from March 15 to April 23, will inaugurate the series, bringing together international scholars, critics, and activist groups (from Angela Davis and Stuart Hall to Slavoj Žižek and Kein Mensch ist Illegal) to discuss the idea of democracy as a perennially flawed “work-in-progress.” “Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Process of Truth and Reconciliation” will follow in New Delhi in May, and “Créolité and Creolization” and “Under Siege: Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Lagos, Kinshasa” are working titles for conferences in the West Indies (November 2001) and Lagos, Nigeria (March 2002). As for the Kassel finale, Documenta 11's organizers are unlikely to be as secretive about which artists they plan to include as their predecessor, the notoriously tight-lipped curator of Documenta X, Catherine David.

For now, Enwezor and company are focused on engaging international audiences in the intellectual exchange that precedes such a massive exhibition. Markus Muller, Documenta 11's director of communications calls this process “transparent research.” The approach could provide a countermodel to the monolithic structure of many large-scale exhibitions, yielding a diffuse experience that unfolds slowly over time. “100 Days—100 Guests,” the series of presentations that accompanied Documenta X, was a step in this direction.

By taking Documenta 11 on the road, the curators will definitively abandon the exhibition's original mandate: to reinvigorate culture in postwar Germany. (Documenta 1 was held in 1955.) Things change, as the curators have acknowledged in a collective statement: “We believe . . . the present global moment requires of institutions such as Documenta a reevaluation of their own methodology.” The platforms are thus intended to provide a forum for questioning the very mechanisms that drive such unwieldy projects. It will be interesting to see whether this self-critique leads to an exhibition that integrates the initial theoretical discussion with the aesthetic intentions and needs of artists and audiences. Or perhaps the fifth platform will simply let the works speak for themselves.

Gregory Williams is a critic living in New York.