PRINT May 2002

World Report

Documenta11, plus a roster of participating artists

Anyone who knows anything about Documenta11 knows that the theme of this year’s rendition of the quinquennial blockbuster is globalism. But these days globalism can mean a lot of things, most of which have to do with economic multinationalism and reactionary geopolitical alliances. So what does the term mean to artistic director Okwui Enwezor, and how has he made it the basis for this sprawling, much-hyped, and notoriously Eurocentric art event? The just-released roster of artists in this year’s exhibition, which opens in Kassel, Germany, on June 8, provides the beginnings of an answer: In previous Documentas, 80 to 90 percent of the artists were natives of NATO countries; this time the percentage is about half that.

As the first non-European director of Documenta, Nigeria-born Enwezor (who also orga-nized the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale) brings to the operation a wholly different optic. For him, globalism is not some new form of pluralism that equalizes all international artists. Rather, his intent, as I learned when we talked on several occasions recently (fittingly on more than one continent), is to reveal “how local specificities create new orientations in the global discourse.” “Documenta11’s aim,” Enwezor says, “is to seek out strong interpretive agents for how art, artists, intellectuals, [and] activists intervene within the critical logistics of art, culture, and politics; how they are produced, circulated, received, and constructed.” Ours, he adds, is a breakthrough moment in culture, a “critical juncture” at which to consider the place of art within rapidly changing international political processes. Thus the exhibition will raise fundamental questions about who owns culture in a time of national and ethnic instability. The implicit thesis of Documenta11 is that the physical and psychic displacements of globalization can best be understood through cultural forms—the written, filmed, visualized, and performed expressions that shape identity in the diaspora.

If this sounds ambitious, so is everything about Documenta11, which began back in March 2001 with the first of five “platforms”: four symposia plus the exhibition itself, taking place in locales as far-flung as New Delhi, Johannesburg, and the island of St. Lucia. Add to this more publications and commissions than ever before. To help pull off this vast undertaking, Enwezor enlisted an international all-star team of cocurators—Ute Meta Bauer, Carlos Basualdo, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya.

Enwezor claims that this Documenta is “more methodologically adventurous than the standard exhibition of contemporary art.” The platform structure, perhaps the boldest innovation the curatorial team has come up with, supports his claim. Unlike “100 Days—100 Guests,” organized by Documenta X curator Catherine David, the platforms are not individual lectures but symposia, “discursive sites for the elaboration and enunciation of thematic issues.” Moreover, they broaden the interdisciplinary reach of the exhibition by engaging respected intellectuals (Homi Bhabha, Ernesto Laclau, Wole Soyinka, Nawal al-Saadawi, Slavoj Zizek, Chantal Mouffe, Immanuel Wallerstein, Stuart Hall, and many others) in a critical discussion that goes well beyond pondering aesthetics to “reinventing and reinterpreting the place of culture within a global society.” Each conference has focused on a key issue: urban policy in Africa, creolization as a model for cultural formation, the implications of post-apartheid truth and reconciliation commissions, and the future of democracy. One overarching philosophical goal is to question various precepts of modernity to see how they hold up under the new conditions of globalization. For example, the first platform, “Democracy Unrealized,” asked, Can democracy, a fundamentally Western concept, serve as a valid standard for the constitution of civil society in all post–cold war nations? (Videotaped proceedings of the platforms are available at

Certainly, by design and location, the platforms aim to challenge the notion of the monolithic global exhibition with its pretense of universality and authority. But, more particularly, as public events they are conceived to “engage with the issues of citizenship and access that [Documenta] takes as its foremost conceptual and structural challenge.” While the exhibition itself will be the only platform that many attend or take interest in, for Enwezor it is part of a wider intellectual project. The artists are meant to be considered alongside the symposium speakers; each may use a different language, but the conversation surrounds shared issues.

Many artists chosen for this year’s Documenta hail from outside the conventional Euro-American gallery nexus. Enwezor says the curators aimed to sidestep the saturated international art market, what he calls “the mad alliance between the art producers and the speculative logic of Wall Street.” Seasoned art-world globe-trotters will find many unfamiliar names, though blue-chip heavy hitters such as Louise Bourgeois and William Eggleston and well-known Enwezor favorites Glenn Ligon, Isaac Julien, and Lorna Simpson will be here, too. Visitors will also find, Enwezor says, small-scale solo exhibitions that reveal the overall logic of a single project: Allan Sekula’s series “Fish Story,” 1990–95, will be presented in its entirety; Dieter Roth will be given a mini-retrospective; and various works by Thomas Hirschhorn, including his latest public-art installation, Bataille Monument (commissioned for the occasion), will be shown.

Enwezor has also chosen activist artists and collectives, such as Igloolik Isuma Productions, an Inuit film company; the Atlas Group, a fictitious foundation that collects documents on the history of Lebanon; and Park Fiction, a Hamburg collective of residents, architects, and social scientists who are recasting public-use land in the German port city. Film, particularly documentary film (which featured prominently in several of the platforms), will be included to an extent and purpose unprecedented in Documenta’s history. Films by Trinh T. Minh-ha, Johan van der Keuken, and Ulrike Ottinger will be shown, along with Western Deep, a newly commissioned work by Steve McQueen that follows an “infernal journey” into a South African gold mine. These projects and films foretell a chattering of varied voices speaking across cultural differences, leaving no doubt this will be a Documenta engaged less with the contemplation of beauty than with the politics of ideas.

If the metaphor for Enwezor’s 1997 Johannesburg Biennale was trade, an economic trope, here it seems to be translation, a linguistic device. The metaphor encapsulates not only the literal translation necessary to communicate across national borders but also the adaptive lingua francas that form in response to dynamic political conditions. The exhibition itself can be viewed as a discursive proposition, an engaging conversation between intellectuals and artists, as well as an argument for the prospect of artists’ voices being taken seriously in political debate, not as supplements but as an equal but different kind of knowledge.

Brian Wallis is director of exhibitions and chief curator of the International Center of Photography, New York.


Georges Adéagbo
Ravi Agarwal
Eija-Liisa Ahtila
Chantal Akerman
Gaston A. Ancelovici (Colectivo Cine Ojo)
Fareed Armaly
Michael Ashkin
Kutlug Ataman
The Atlas Group
Julie Bargmann (D.I.R.T. Studio)/Stacy Levy
Artur Barrio
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Zarina Bhimji
Black Audio Film Collective
John Bock
Ecke Bonk
Frédéric Bruly Bouabré
Louise Bourgeois
Pavel Braila
Stanley Brouwn
Tania Bruguera
Luis Camnitzer
James Coleman
Hanne Darboven
Destiny Deacon
Stan Douglas
Cecilia Edefalk
William Eggleston
Maria Eichhorn
Touhami Ennadre
Cerith Wyn Evans
Feng Mengbo
Chohreh Feyzdjou
Yona Friedman
Meschac Gaba
Giuseppe Gabellone
Carlos Garaicoa
Kendell Geers
Isa Genzken
Jef Geys
David Goldblatt
Leon Golub
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster
Renée Green
Victor Grippo
Le Groupe Amos
Jens Haaning
Mona Hatoum
Thomas Hirschhorn
Candida Höfer
Craigie Horsfield
Huit Facettes
Pierre Huyghe
Igloolik Isuma Productions
Sanja Ivekovic
Alfredo Jaar
Joan Jonas
Isaac Julien
Amar Kanwar
On Kawara
William Kentridge
Johan van der Keuken
Bodys Isek Kingelez
Ben Kinmont
Svetlana and Igor Kopystiansky
Ivan Kozaric
Andreja Kuluncic
Glenn Ligon
Ken Lum
Mark Manders
Fabián Marcaccio
Steve McQueen
Cildo Meireles
Jonas Mekas
Annette Messager
Ryuji Miyamoto
Santu Mofokeng
Juan Muñoz
Shirin Neshat
Gabriel Orozco
Olumuyiwa Olamide Osifuye
Ulrike Ottinger
Ouattara Watts
Park Fiction
Manfred Pernice
Raymond Pettibon
Adrian Piper
Lisl Ponger
Pere Portabella
Raqs Media Collective
Alejandra Riera with Doina Petrescu
Dieter Roth
Doris Salcedo
Seifollah Samadian
Gilles Saussier
Allan Sekula
Yinka Shonibare
Andreas Siekmann
Lorna Simpson
Eyal Sivan
David Small
Fiona Tan
Pascale Marthine Tayou
Jean-Marie Teno
Trinh T. Minh-ha
Joëlle Tuerlinckx
Luc Tuymans
Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas
Jeff Wall
Nari Ward
Yang FuDong