Daniel Birnbaum

DOCUMENTA 12 IS A WEIRD THING. What, after all, is one to make of the exhibition’s wacky interior decors with heavy curtains and dark olive or bright salmon walls; of the idiosyncratic mix of contemporary work and historical material from around the globe (Persian calligraphy from the sixteenth century, an Iranian carpet from around 1800, Japanese avant-garde art of the 1950s, to cite but a few examples); or of the apparent obsession with meshes, threads, and textiles in general? And what is one to think of the organizers’ downplaying of the geographical, biographical, and cultural contexts of the works on display in favor of formal similarities and family resemblances between and among them? What, indeed, are we to make of the curators’ unwillingness to adequately theorize their exhibition, of their preferring instead to let the art speak for itself, “on its own terms”—as if art “in

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