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the Venice Biennale, Documenta 14, and Skulptur Projekte Münster

Mika Rottenberg, Cosmic Generator (Yiwu) (work in progress), still from the video component of a mixed-media installation. From Skulptur Projekte Münster.

RUMORS BEGAN SWIRLING this winter about the two processions with horses that would launch Documenta 14 in April, with all the exhibition’s previous directors volunteering to participate in a ride from Athens to Kassel to inaugurate this year’s iteration. Originally, the Athens parade, modeled on a procession found on one of the Parthenon’s friezes, was to include miniature Skyrian ponies, which sounded rather unheroic, but apparently Greece’s Central Archaeological Council intervened and normal-size horses were ridden by all. Another favorite speculation was whether the Greeks should be grateful for artistic director Adam Szymczyk’s offer for them to cohost the show, and if this invitation should be viewed in relation to the hundreds of billions in bailout money from the EU. Leather-clad motorcycle boy–cum–ex-minister of finance Yanis Varoufakis, for one, was not amused: “It’s a gimmick by which to exploit the tragedy in Greece in order to massage the consciences of some people from Documenta.”

So what can visitors to the three extravaganzas in Athens/Kassel, Venice, and Münster/Marl, look forward to in artistic terms? Well, certainly, the horses’ arrival in Kassel and the promise of other unexpected displays, both wild and winsome, including from filmmaker and scholar Manthia Diawara and performance artist Nikhil Chopra. In Venice, the ever-growing Biennale, curated by Christine Macel, will present eighty-five national pavilions and a massive, mazelike central exhibition, with no fewer than nine themes, which will take us from joy and fear to infinity. The participants’ names are out, and I can’t recall any artist worth thinking about who isn’t lingering somewhere in that labyrinth, from Philippe Parreno to the OHO Group, from Slovenia. Skulptur Projekte Münster, finally, is always a bit more matter-of-fact and laconic, true to Kasper König’s vision, which has now been spelled out in five chapters over half a century. Can one create a public not only with but also for art? I’m looking forward to Nora Schultz’s drone-based architectural interventions, Ei Arakawa’s singing digital paintings installed by Aasee, a local lake, and Mika Rottenberg’s storefront video installation. Not surprisingly, König and his curatorial team, Britta Peters, and Marianne Wagner, have found a satellite not in a cradle of civilization or on the other side of the planet, but less than an hour away and easily reachable (without procession) by train or even taxi: the unspectacular industrial city of Marl, in which art can, perhaps, meet an audience without much interference from the global market. Is that too utopian an idea?

Daniel Birnbaum

This is a complimentary article from the May issue of Artforum. Subscribe to access the rest of the issue and our online archives.