John Smith, The Girl Chewing Gum, 1976, black-and-white film in 16 mm, 12 minutes. Installation view, Dresdener Straße 19, Berlin, 2010. Photo: Uwe Walter.

the 6th Berlin Biennale

IF POSTWAR ART BROUGHT US the “return of the real,” an unruly move from high modernism down to materials, sites, and bodies, this year’s Berlin Biennale intended yet another such return—but minus many of the complications. Under the title “Was draußen wartet” (What Is Waiting Out There), the show’s curator, Kathrin Rhomberg, straightforwardly proposed a renewed investment in “reality” as a means of countering art’s entrenchment in insular, “art-immanent and formal problems.” Yet the rapid-fire and often wanton deployment of the word reality in the exhibition materials mainly left a sense of that term’s fundamental opacity.

Within the show itself, reality often meant the postcolonial, globalized, politicized world familiar from Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11 in 2002 and last year’s Istanbul Biennial—or even those exhibitions’ desire to bring into the center the marginalized “other”

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