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by Anthony Gardner & Charles Green

Post-North? Documenta11 and the Challenges of the “Global” Exhibition


Documenta11 (2002) is widely considered one of the most important exhibitions in recent decades, recognized for its postcolonial, geographic dispersion of art. Two key factors underpin this recognition, for not only did its artistic director Okwui Enwezor assert that the idea of an avant-garde had never belonged to the North Atlantic alone, but his curatorial enterprise also hinged on a radical (though not entirely unprecedented) curatorial method: that of diffused curatorship in which the exhibition’s director worked closely with a team of collaborators. Our essay will concentrate equally on both of these impulses behind Enwezor’s challenge to “global” exhibition-making at the turn of the millennium. It will also point to the significant tension that then emerged between the self-conscious destabilization of centralized intellectual and artistic authority across what Enwezor famously described as postcolonial “constellations of discursive domains, circuits of artistic and knowledge production, and research modules,” on the one hand, and his adroitly managerial solution of delegated duties on the other.[i]

Enwezor was consciously seeking a fundamental and ambitious redefinition of the structure and meaning of art institutions according to a globalized and, potentially, decolonized model of art. Rather than simply presenting a group show in documenta’s usual, comfortable Kassel home, he staged his exhibition—though this was far more than an exhibition in the conventional understanding of the term—across five connected forums, or “Platforms” as he called them, in different locations worldwide. He shared curatorial responsibility for Documenta11 between himself and his close-knit group of six co-curators: Carlos Basualdo, Ute Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya. He had worked with each previously and, moreover, had done so over a long period (Zaya, for instance, co-curated the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale with Enwezor in 1997). Despite its setting in the small German town, but given its huge reputation and resources, documenta offered perhaps the only opportunity for such a group of leading curators to actively alter the art world with one exhibition. At the very least, it provided this curatorial team with the ambition to emphasize certain aspects of the all-powerful wave of globalization then sweeping the contemporary art world in order to advance a narrative of decolonization over other narratives about the global, and Documenta11 did so thoroughly enough to have a genuinely historic impact on both artistic and curatorial practice. In that light, it is perhaps surprising that though there have been many references to Documenta11 in the literature on biennials, and an extensive array of reviews and feature articles that appeared in the period after 2002, there has been relatively little by way of extended writing on the exhibition. Our book Biennials, Triennials, and documenta: The Exhibitions That Created Contemporary Art (2016) offers one such expansive analysis, returning to earlier editions of documenta, particularly Harald Szeemann’s impactful exhibition of 1972, and to the great, post-World War II emergence of biennials across the global South.[ii] As Okwui Enwezor well knew, this second wave of biennials was an important prefiguration of his epochal Documenta11.

Okwui Enwezor in front of the Museum Fridericianum during Documenta11, 2002. Photo: Ryzard Kasiewic. Courtesy documenta Archive

The Five-Year Plan

The 1998 appointment of Enwezor as curator of Documenta11 was in itself a radical departure from documenta’s exclusively West European list of previous directors (a list that as well had only consisted of men until 1997, when French curator Catherine David directed documenta X). documenta X had focused on curating art that was adamant in its links with politics, and Documenta11 maintained that emphasis. However, Documenta11’s particular historical moment—five years later and following the 9/11 attack—was now marked by the different issues that the Platforms were to spell out: a more intense focus on globalization; a heightened sense that racism, along with a hysteria about refugees and Islam, had returned to Europe; and, overshadowing all this, the new awareness of an impending environmental catastrophe. Catherine David’s own obdurately and politically engaged artist selections, along with her revival of a daily public program of famous speakers that stretched the whole hundred-day duration of documenta X, were clear influences on Enwezor’s approach. Looking back in 2013, shortly after he was appointed director of the 2015 Venice Biennale, Enwezor remembered that he was very conscious of this:

Exactly 15 years ago, I got handed the reins of organizing documenta. I was 35 at the time, I had [a] limited track record, no major institution, patron, mentor, behind me, yet somehow that amazing jury that selected me saw beyond those deficits and focused, I hope, on the force of my ideas, and perhaps even a little wager on the symbolism of my being the first non-European, etc. My sense of it was that the jury wanted a choice that could be disruptive of the old paradigm but still not abandon the almost mythic ideal of this Mount Olympus of exhibitions. I came to documenta as I said with little track record, but with an abundance of confidence.[iii]

Enwezor was quite accurately playing down his exhibition experience: he had curated nothing remotely on the scale of documenta, with the possible, though fraught and perhaps telling exception, of Trade Routes: History and Geography: 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1997). But he was perfectly positioned to take on the discursive role of the reforming, surprise outsider, and his methods were already presaged in Johannesburg. There, he had presented multiple exhibitions arranged by a group of curators, a film program, and a symposium as an “open network of exchange,” capable of productively exploring the sociopolitical processes of globalization.[iv] This was an immense claim for an exhibition and had rested on the curator expropriating conceptual territory far beyond the aesthetic—an expropriation that had always proved immensely controversial, as shown by the heated and negative artist and critic responses to Harald Szeemann’s 1972 landmark documenta 5: Befragung der Realität, Bildwelten heute (Questioning Reality—Pictorial Worlds Today), and to Elisabeth Sussman’s 1993 Whitney Biennial. Enwezor had emphasized the importance of openness in a world characterized by migration and displacement. Despite the economic focus of its title, Trade Routes: History and Geography presented geographical mobility and displacement as the overarching unifying core of globalization, more than what he described as “economic consolidation and efficient distribution of labour and capital.”[v] The main thrust of Enwezor’s argument at Johannesburg was already that contemporary globalization politically and conceptually relates to historical colonialism, and that an examination of the enduring cultural mélange formed by colonialism “breathes new life” into thinking about globalization.[vi] While he emphasized the colonial origin of current developments in global history, Enwezor also claimed that contemporary globalization is an unprecedented phenomenon, a period “like no other in human history.”[vii]

Enwezor was born in 1963 in Nigeria, but had been based in New York from late 1982 on. We use “based” fairly loosely though, for at that turn-of-the-century moment in the biennial boom, in 2002, no member of the emerging, highly peripatetic curator cadre was domiciled anywhere except airport lounges. By 2017, however, most are now safely ensconced in senior art museum jobs: Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine Gallery in London, Okwui Enwezor at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Massimiliano Gioni at the New Museum in New York, Jessica Morgan at the Dia Art Foundation in New York, and so on. With an undergraduate degree in political science but no academic training in art history or background in museum work, Enwezor paid insistent attention to contemporary art outside the predictable North Atlantic art circuit, knowing that his life experiences precisely embodied the peripheralism he promoted. However, his close-knit Documenta11 curatorium, four of whom were also academics as well as curators, had strong links to London (the exception, Chicago-based curator Susanne Ghez, was the long-standing director and chief curator of the University of Chicago’s respected art museum, the Renaissance Society). More particularly still, the cabal was linked to a small institution that embodied the growing intersection of academia and curatorship, the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva), located in Shoreditch in London’s East End. Its founding director, Gilane Tawadros, was to be one of the co-curators of the 2003 Venice Biennale. This small research institute had a considerable reputation as a powerhouse for exhibitions and writing over successive phases of multicultural and postcolonial thinking; its scholars were connected with the influential, London-based journal, Third Text, which had been founded back in 1987 by veteran artist-theorist Rasheed Araeen. They all owed a considerable intellectual debt to pioneering Birmingham School cultural theorist and sociologist, Stuart Hall.

A link between curator and scholar was itself slightly unusual, for curators’ writings on contemporary art and their methodologies for researching biennials had long since diverged from the work of art historians. The differences included the semi-ritual iteration of open rhetorical tropes, rather than the specificities and conclusive arguments usually associated with academic scholarship, and many curators’ predilection to advocacy as opposed to art historians’ preference for critique. The mutual incomprehension between curators and art historians was by now long-standing, dating back at least to documenta 5 in 1972 and the rise of the charismatic auteur curator.[viii] The early twenty-first-century chasm between the two otherwise closely aligned professional groups, has been quite thoroughly discussed by many writers but was, as we shall see, not necessarily as inevitable as it mistakenly seems. It was certainly not as definitive as the almost complete exclusion of art critics from the key forums of contemporary art. The curators of Documenta11 were exceptional in that they crossed these borders. Certain of them, such as art historian Sarat Maharaj, then based at Goldsmiths College in London, already had very substantial reputations as scholars (in Maharaj’s case, as an expert on Marcel Duchamp and Richard Hamilton). And it was in mid-1990s New York that Enwezor co-founded Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art with Chika Okeke-Agulu and Salah Hassan, and co-presented his first exhibition that would attract wide notice, In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present, at the Guggenheim Museum (1996). In retrospect, In/sight already announced Enwezor’s methodologies for Documenta11. First, In/sight argued that powerful parallel modernities, in this case those of African art, needed to be taken into account in any postwar art history. Second, Enwezor was already choosing to work in collaboration, in this exhibition with co-curators Clare Bell (assistant curator at the Guggenheim Museum), Danielle Tilkin (project director for Africa Hoy/Africa Now), and Octavio Zaya (who had been a co-curator of the first Johannesburg Biennial in 1995 and was to be a co-curator with Enwezor of the imminent second Johannesburg Biennial (1997) and then of Documenta11).

Documenta11 incorporated a double perspective that we might summarize in two words: postcolonialism and globalization. As the twin organizing criteria for the exhibition, these were not by any means completely novel. A number of landmark biennials and museum exhibitions had previously foregrounded not simply identity politics, but also artists who dissected the workings of cultural hegemony. Magiciens de la terre (1989) and documenta X (1997) were Documenta11’s chief North Atlantic precursors, though Enwezor would have insisted instead on a genealogy of exhibitions that included several biennials of the South, including his own Johannesburg Biennial of 1997.[ix] Nevertheless, just as Arnold Bode and his friends had developed the first documenta to connect postwar West Germany with the rest of Cold War Europe via an exhibition of the newest developments in the late-modernist, international art of the time, so Enwezor was connecting the North Atlantic to the global South, like it or not, at the most important and influential recurring exhibition of all, with a notable focus on artists from Africa. This was an intensely geopolitical view of exhibition curating and one immediately recognized by visitors, even if they themselves were somewhat blind to their own metropolitan provincialism. As critic Kim Levin wrote,

Updating the founder's original intent, which was to bring to post-war Germany the latest developments in modern art from the rest of Europe, Documenta 11 (which continues through September 15) brings to Europe the latest developments from the rest of the struggling, globalizing, postcolonial world. Jan Hoet's Documenta IX missed its historic chance to bring new art from the former Soviet empire into the fold in 1992. Catherine David's Documenta X in 1997 talked the talk about inclusion, but flubbed it with exclusionist hauteur. Enwezor, with a team of six co-curators, delivers on his promise.[x]

The exhibition did more than this; it relentlessly challenged North Atlantic hegemony over the definition of contemporary art. As Enwezor wrote in his introductory essay to the Documenta11 catalogue:

Today’s avant-garde is so thoroughly disciplined and domesticated within the scheme of Empire that a whole different set of regulatory and resistance models has to be found to counterbalance Empire’s attempts at totalization. Hardt and Negri call this resistance force, opposed to the power of Empire, “the multitude.”[xi]

By Empire, he was alluding to the then-recently published and, at the time, much-quoted activist tract by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (2000).[xii] Hardt and Negri’s Empire had immediately become a bleak primer for the new millennium, and it was much quoted in art-critical and curatorial essays. Geography, culture, injustice, and globalization—accompanied, in the wake of September 11, 2001, by a large section of the broad European and American public’s reversion to social intolerance and rollback of popular left-liberal causes—had instantly periodized both postmodernity and its identity-driven early 1990s successor as privileged subcultures. The explanation, according to Hardt and Negri in Empire, was an Empire that internalized and entangled Others rather than simply exploit them: they explained that Empire was an open system of ever-enlarging networks without a center. Hardt and Negri did not simply identify Empire with the United States. Instead, they pointed out the equivalence of globalized corporations and postmodern factories with neomedievalist, fundamentalist Others, and in all this they imagined only a weak, quasi-messianic positive agency (a “multitude” of indefinable yet potentially collective desires and drives). At the center of Empire, they placed communications industries and, at the very margins of this world, a space left for art.

Curators such as Enwezor grasped the stakes in adapting to this transformation, explaining that marginal artistic players who had been there and were ignored all along could repopulate familiar, foundational artistic narratives. Entanglement, not difference, ruled Enwezor’s documenta and his reconstituted global canon of art (although the dual reference to the destroyed airplanes of 9/11 and the venue for moving image projection in the title of his catalogue essay, “The Black Box,” made that entanglement significantly strained). He explained the hegemony exercised through art history’s putatively disinterested judgments and the commerce of art with consummate, diplomatic plausibility: doyenne artist Louise Bourgeois, for instance, was both self-declared outsider and, by already universal consensus, a senior, key figure in late twentieth-century North Atlantic art; in Kassel the room for her works was next to a suite of rooms devoted to West Coast conceptualist photographer Allan Sekula’s monumental archive documenting the decline of global shipping, Fish Story (1987–1995), pointedly opposite a group of rooms that quite precisely mirrored this juxtaposition of hot emotional rhetoric and cool documentary. But this group of rooms consisted of works by artists of color, including Lorna Simpson, Steve McQueen, and Destiny Deacon.

Next, Enwezor was not simply altering the form of biennial directing by just delegating his curatorial role. He was, as well, expanding quite dramatically the form that a biennial would take (and, as we argue in our book, we are using the word to signify biennials, triennials, and all other recurrent exhibitions that survey contemporary art). Building on the “100 days–100 guests” program of speakers that Catherine David had made such a prominent part of documenta X, Enwezor saw that a biennial could encompass the participation and the intellectual work of invitees who were not artists at all, but economists, lawyers, poets, political theorists, and other experts. Further, he would disperse Documenta11 beyond Kassel itself, across the five “Platforms” spread across the globe, each located in a different nation.

The Documenta11 office explained this complex process thus:

Platform1, Democracy Unrealized, took place in Vienna, Austria, from March 15 to April 20, 2001 in Vienna. It continued from October 9 to October 30, 2001, in Berlin, Germany [following the terrorist attacks of 9/11].

Platform2, Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation, took place in New Delhi, India, from May 7 to May 21, 2001, and consisted of five days of public panel discussions, lectures, and debates and a video program that included over 30 documentaries and fiction films.

Platform3, Créolité and Creolization, was held on the West Indian island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean between January 12 and January 16, 2002.

Platform4, Under Siege: Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos, was held in Lagos from March 15 to March 21, 2002, and engaged the current state of affairs of fast-growing African urban centers in a public symposium, along with a workshop, “Urban Processes in Africa,” organized in collaboration with CODESRIA. Over the course of one year, more than 80 international participants across many disciplines – philosophers, writers, artists, architects, political activists, lawyers, scholars, and other cultural practitioners – contributed to the evolving, dynamic public sphere that spelled out Documenta11’s attempt to formulate a critical model that joins heterogeneous cultural and artistic circuits of present global context.

Platform5, the final platform, is the exhibition Documenta11 in Kassel, from June 8–September 15, 2002.[xiii]

Cover of Documenta11_Platform 5, exhibition catalogue, curators Okwui Enwezor et al (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2002). Courtesy documenta and Museum Fridericianum GmbH and Hatje Cantz.

The first four Platforms consisted of lectures, debates, and panel discussions; the fifth included these as well, during the event’s one-hundred days of public events much as at documenta X, but it also included the expected mega-exhibition spread across the Museum Fridericianum (the stately art museum on Kassel’s town square that had been the principal venue since the first documenta in 1955) and the close-by documenta-Halle, the Orangerie, the Binding Brauerei (a derelict brewery used for this documenta only), the Kulturbahnhof (Kassel’s former central railway station, which had long been replaced by the newer Wilhelmshöhe Station, a few kilometers west of the city center, leaving the older central station to local trains and its surprisingly capacious building to galleries for documenta), and a few other, smaller, temporary venues, including Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn’s elaborate, jerry-built sculpture-cum-community-center, the famous Bataille Monument (2002), which was located further out of town in a poorer workers’ suburb. In 2002, Documenta11 did not use the Neue Galerie, which had long been a key documenta venue.

In his Introduction to Documenta11’s exhibition catalogue, Enwezor declared:

As an exhibition project, Documenta11 begins from the sheer side of extraterritoriality: firstly, by displacing its historical context in Kassel; secondly, by moving outside the domain of the gallery space to that of the discursive; and thirdly, by expanding the locus of the disciplinary models that constitute and define the project's intellectual and cultural interest.[xiv]

The triple significance of the word “platform” helps explain why the previous symposia were so important to Enwezor and his group, even though each was attended either by audiences of insignificant size or by invitees only. First, a platform is a manifesto, a rhetorical gesture and an outline of a plan for the future. The first four Platforms were all of these. Enwezor had explicitly asserted that all the Platforms, together, were “a constellation of disciplinary models that seek to explain and interrogate ongoing historical processes and radical change, spatial and temporal dynamics, as well as fields of actions and ideas, and systems of interpretation and production.”[xv] The thoroughness of the enterprise, mapping a succession of global challenges that seemed particularly pressing at that early twenty-first-century moment—democracy (which is overshadowed by history), reconciliation (which is tested by the search for justice), cultural hybridity (exemplified by creolization), and urbanization (the millennial stresses that might undo or reshape civic culture)—went far beyond the normal, boilerplate curatorial rhetoric.

Second, a platform is a vantage point. Enwezor’s Platforms, culminating at Kassel, were looking into the distance, both forwards and backwards. The view was prospective in that the participants described future reconciliation in the political, cultural, and social spheres—sometimes in their papers or later, in Kassel, in their works of art—in utopian or sometimes dystopian visions. Their views were, equally, retrospective in that the Platform speakers and, just as obviously, Kassel’s artists were documenting and mapping the global present. They were recording contemporaneity’s present shape, whether in the speakers’ essays or in artists like Sekula’s patient assemblage of documentary color photographs, which described the transcontinental operation and slow collapse of ocean-based industries such as shipping and fishing in a long succession across rooms of modestly scaled prints. (Sekula avoided the gargantuan scale of glossy C-type images that had become a common artistic trope in photography selections for biennials.) This double vision was definitely comprehensible to Documenta11’s knowledgeable European audience. But even then, the Kassel exhibition, as Enwezor well knew, appeared within the horizon of a powerful but apparently natural and, in fact, recalcitrant North Atlantic provincialism.

As if to prove him right, at the time, other curators were mapping an idea of international art that far more exclusively identified with the idea of a globalized world, using a global topography redeemed by the now-apparently free flow of data, information, and commodities. The director of the 2003 Venice Biennale and co-curator of Ljubljana’s Manifesta 3, Francesco Bonami, was one of those figures. Propelled by his rosy view of the curatorial collaborations in Ljubljana, Bonami would imagine in Venice a cultural camaraderie produced by art that depended on its viewers to complete the work. This was “Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer,” the title of his 2003 Venice Biennale. Bonami, like many curators of the period, was identifying open-endedness with the third and then-familiar usage of the word “platform,” which denoted a matrix-like assemblage of software that is so open and permeable that it permits interoperability and easy plug-ins, and in turn linking this to the highly informal, relational art of the late 1990s. But this “Dictatorship” was to quickly become dated, as Claire Bishop observed in the aftermath of Documenta11 and a few months after Bonami’s Biennale closed, when she wrote that, “It can be argued that the works of Hirschhorn and Sierra, as I have presented them, are no longer tied to the direct activation of the viewer, or to their literal participation in the work.”[xvi] Not only did her words point to the limits of art’s relational aesthetics, but equally to the passive politics at the core of certain curatorial thinking.

Enwezor, on the other hand, was not at all as invested in those two particular, quickly aging signifiers of artistic contemporaneity, both of which had first appeared the previous decade in Traffic (curated by Nicolas Bourriaud at the CAPC, Bordeaux, in 1996). By 2002, curators had already been valorizing the terms associated with conviviality and sociability for about ten years, and so the degree to which Enwezor avoided such art and rhetoric in his documenta, as opposed to Bonami’s reliance on that in his Venice Biennale a mere year later, reflects real difference in artistic priorities despite the common network within which both curators moved. As veteran New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl reluctantly admitted, Okwui Enwezor “is onto something: a drastically expanded field of players and points of view in which the global spread of multiculturalism is taken for granted.”[xvii] Documenta11 painted a picture of contemporary art as a network in which New York, Lagos, London, Cape Town, and Basel were more or less equally important to a contemporary canon and similarly crucial in understanding contemporaneity, as opposed to some centers being exotic margins and others more genuinely cosmopolitan and contemporary.

Black Box, White Cube, Outside the Frame

The North Atlantic was marginal in Enwezor’s first four Platforms but not at the fifth, the Kassel exhibition. We know that Enwezor placed his documenta against North Atlantic hegemony, and yet a very substantial number of the artists he selected were from Europe and the United States, so many that we must focus on this apparently contradictory aspect of his selections in order to understand what he was doing at this fifth Platform.[xviii] We will do this by focusing on one of his selections in particular, Thomas Hirschhorn’s Bataille Monument (2002), which embodied the different, ambitious notions of a platform, but which was also self-consciously a work of art. We will come back to the significance of this apparently unremarkable observation shortly, for it is central to understanding both the significance of Hirschhorn in general, as Anthony Gardner has elsewhere explored in detail, but also of Enwezor’s placement of Hirschhorn’s work at the heart—while at the same time at a highly visible periphery—of Documenta11 as well.[xix] Hirschhorn’s work figured immediately and prominently in exhibition reviews. His Monument was located at the Friedrich-Wöhler housing estate, in an outer suburb of Kassel called Nordstadt, a racially divided and socioeconomically disadvantaged district far away from documenta’s main exhibition venues such as the Museum Fridericianum, the Brewery, and the Hauptbahnhof, which were all concentrated near the city center. As we noted, Documenta11 did not use the Neue Galerie in 2002, and so the Neue Galerie’s great collection of works by Joseph Beuys—including his arrangement of sleds, The Pack (1969), as well as the famous banner-size photograph and a self-portrait of Beuys, La rivoluzione siamo Noi (The Revolution Is Us) (1972), which had been part of the artist’s Büro der Organisation für direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (Bureau of the Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum) at documenta 5—was able to be seen that year during documenta. This is worth remembering, given Hirschhorn’s extensive allusions to Beuys and the Monument’s debt to Beuys’s Büro and to documenta 5 (which we will discuss in more detail presently). The Bataille Monument was really only accessible to documenta visitors if they waited at the main venues for garishly badged old taxis that were themselves part of the artwork. These shuttled at intervals to and from the Nordstadt. The Monument itself was constituted by a series of “departments.” These included large, Merzbau-like installations made of recycled materials, silver foil, cardboard, and plastic sheeting held together with duct tape and covered with messages and aphorisms, a plastic tree-like sculpture that doubled as a meeting-place, and a free library filled with books on Bataille’s key obsessions, including sections on “words,” “sex,” and “sport.” There was an Imbiss, a snack bar run by a local Turkish family, and a website and television studio at which locals could create programs on any subject they wished. These would later be transmitted on Kassel’s public access television service. There were workshops about art and philosophy at which Hirschhorn and experts on the French surrealist theorist would appear and speak. Over the course of five months, Hirschhorn and his team, which included more than twenty assistants drawn from housing estate residents and young volunteers, constructed, maintained, and eventually removed these various departments.

Thomas Hirschhorn, « Bataille Monument », 2002 (Taxi-Shuttle Service) Documenta 11, Kassel, 2002. Photo: Werner Maschmann, courtesy the artist?

It is important to emphasize that Hirschhorn undertook the creation, maintenance, and monitoring of the Bataille Monument together with the residents of the Nordstadt. However, at the same time, the Bataille Monument was definitely “not a question of representation, of a social project, of democratic representation,” in Hirschhorn’s words, “but of an artistic project.”[xx] His distinction between art and activism is important, for although art-critical writing and exhibition-making connected with racial and cultural identity had marked the 1990s and its biennials, such as the 1993 Whitney Biennial, there was a great distinction between consciousness-raising, the celebration of difference, and what Hirschhorn (and by extension Enwezor) was now proposing. Central to this distinction was Beuys’s Büro at documenta 5 as the direct precursor of Hirschhorn’s Bataille Monument. The photographs and slogans that Beuys and his assistants had pinned on the Büro’s walls or scrawled on its blackboards reappeared now in the pages and banners that Hirschhorn taped to the walls of his sculptures. Hirschhorn had decided that he would be present at the Bataille Monument in the Nordstadt to field questions about his politics, the work, and its placement.[xxi] His attendance and the constant routine of activities mirrored Beuys’s constant presence at documenta 5. But Beuys’s Büro was supposed to lead to direct political engagement, whereas Hirschhorn took similar social processes to different ends in a very twenty-first-century demarcation of the audience’s experience with his art from democracy as an end in itself. If Hirschhorn was attracted to Beuys’s utopian social politics, he also understood that such utopian ideals risked being subsumed and dissolved within the social status quo they seemed to protest. Art needed to fight for its own interests and ambitions, according to Hirschhorn, rather than become a politicized tool used for the advantage of others (including that of the Gastarbeiter residents of Kassel’s outer suburbs). Or to put it another way, art had to relate to, but be distinguished from, the other worlds (political, social, and so on) around it. We shall now think this through by looking at the institutionalization, or even the recuperation, of ostensibly radical artistic practices that Enwezor risked in Documenta11.

Thomas Hirschhorn, « Bataille Monument », 2002 (Bar) Documenta 11, Kassel, 2002. Photo: Werner Maschmann, courtesy the artist?

The Platforms that preceded Kassel, and the conference books that began to be published during the year after the exhibition, signaled that the supposed gap between politics and art was the product of a particular geographical perspective on culture, just as Hirschhorn’s Monument signaled that the bridge between the two was neither one of instrumental service nor allegorical lesson. So, if we remember Hirschhorn’s own emphatic resistance to seeing the Bataille Monument as an example of activist democracy—a resistance that seems surprising, at first sight, given the works’ obvious investment in its location, in a racially divided and socioeconomically disadvantaged housing estate—then similarly we must pay careful attention to Enwezor’s claims about both the Platforms and the exhibition at Kassel. Hirschhorn dismissed descriptions of the Bataille Monument that saw it as social work because he did not perceive it as fulfilling the social needs of the Nordstadt’s residents.[xxii] Similarly, Enwezor resisted constraining his exhibition’s politics according to a supposed social need or identity-based militancy, or to claims for artistic autonomy. Rather, he evaluated (as did Hirschhorn) the imbrication of artistic projects with contemporary worlds around them. This was especially evident in Enwezor’s film, video, and speaking program that thoroughly examined the concept of the documentary form that was so instantly identified with Documenta11’s fifth Platform. Thus, he wrote, “Linked together the exhibition counterpoises the supposed purity and autonomy of the art object against a rethinking of modernity based on ideas of transculturality and extraterritoriality.”[xxiii] Where Szeemann was pilloried for non-artist selections, Enwezor’s Documenta11 avoided opprobrium. By comparison, the previous documenta X had been a lightning rod for criticism centered on the austerity of neoconceptual political art. Without a doubt, Enwezor and documenta X’s director, Catherine David, had approached their respective editions of documenta through similar perspectives. She also saw the curator’s role as ethical, welcoming the controversies and the apparent overstepping that this produced. She wrote,

It may seem paradoxical or deliberately outrageous to envision a critical confrontation with the present in the framework of an institution [documenta] that over the past twenty years has become a Mecca for tourism and cultural consumption. Yet the pressing issues of today make it equally presumptuous to abandon all ethical and political demands.[xxiv]

Nonetheless, David avoided framing all this within the parameters of identity politics, words that she had scrupulously avoided in her introductory essay to that 1997 exhibition, instead defining “the great ethical and aesthetic questions of the century’s close,” both negative and positive, including the upsurge of nationalism, racism, and identity fixations, and new forms of citizenship.[xxv] And now it seemed that Documenta11, like the Bataille Monument, managed to embody the space of contested meaning that David had written about. The reason was that Documenta11’s Platforms had deterritorialized contemporary art, by which we mean for a start that Enwezor and his associates did not allow political art to be misconstrued as an identity art, and neither had Hirschhorn or other artists. Enwezor remembered,

The one virtue of documenta is the time allowed to organize it, which made possible the platforms. But you must remember that the platform idea, which was fundamentally about the deterritorialization of documenta, was not initially endorsed by certain landlocked critics, but once it took off its implications about going beyond business as usual became abundantly clear.[xxvi]

There are two ways we can understand this idea of deterritorialization. Just as the deterritorialization of documenta most obviously implies to a general audience the movement of documenta activities off-site from Kassel and Germany, so both contemporary art and the exhibition itself were deterritorialized by being embedded in discourses far larger and more imminent than art pure and simple. This then meant that the adjudicating competencies of art critics were removed in the face of interdisciplinarity (an emerging lack of competence reinforced by the many long moving image works that dotted Documenta11, whose collective duration, variously estimated at more than 600 hours long, would run for longer than the exhibition was open; a full viewing of all the art works was thus impossible, rendering critics doubly bereft of any omniscient authority).[xxvii] This second meaning of deterritorialization as interdisciplinarity was familiar to an art world that had internalized (and often misunderstood) the term from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s deeply influential writings over the previous two decades. It was just as important as the first, since it made the reasons for expanding the venue quite comprehensible. This was not the same thing as pluralism; if that had been the case, Enwezor would only have wanted to disperse documenta’s geography. Nor, it should be clear by now, was this the same as framing contemporary art within the terms of identity and its associated politics. Under these conditions, a consensus for change emerged, starting with the documenta board and proceeding to the international art world. This in turn fed a fairly substantial shift in the artistic canon made possible by a rare coincidence of events, which involved more than just shuffling minor figures on- and offstage behind the main—American, British, Italian, German, and almost always male and white—actors.[xxviii]

There remained skepticism about the capacity of a biennial or any other perennial exhibition to honestly manage a serious shift, even simply the revaluation of art from the periphery to the center, without subsuming, misrepresenting, and excluding artists in vast new spectacles, and now Documenta11 risked the charge of festivalism. Peter Schjeldahl reproached the exhibition for this, writing:

Documenta11 brings to robust maturity a style of exhibition—I call it festivalism—that has long been developing on the planetary circuit of more than fifty biennials and triennials, including the recent Whitney Biennial. Mixing entertainment and soft-core politics, festivalism makes an aesthetic of crowd control.[xxix]

This “festivalism,” he wrote, comprised assemblages of unsaleable installation art that exalted curators. Schjeldahl was making a point more serious than it sounds and perhaps more than he intended about the devolution of experimental art under the sign of the biennial into quasi-intimate experimental play in public situations. This trend was then quickening in pace, linked to the relative withering of an art of institutional critique. Five years before, such critique had underpinned documenta X (and made it a target for bored reviewers). In that documenta, Swedish/Belgian artist Carsten Höller and German artist Rosemarie Trockel had presented Haus für Schweine und Menschen (1997), a pigsty for pedigree, oversexed swine that was a literally living metaphor for biennial socialization. Yet, in a very short period of time, Höller had moved away from this work, dubious in its humorous relation to dour institutional critique, to his later works, The Double Club (2008) and the Tate-sponsored slide, Test Site (2006)—a shift towards mass play and social intimacy.

This shift from critique to play was the basis of the substantive criticisms of Documenta11, which generally emerged from a Left steeped in postcolonial theory. Festivalism, according to writers like Schjeldahl, indicated a transformation in the nature of the biennial spectacle within which different exhibitions might locate themselves in different niches and at the same time attract really substantial audiences without dumbing down the art, or at least any more than contemporary artists wished (for the cultivation of the joke-as-art was a basic trope with biennial curators’ favorite artists, such as Höller or Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan). Schjeldahl’s distinction between the institutional and the commercial contemporary art worlds was already, in the light of the vast spectacles that large commercial galleries such as Gagosian Gallery would unleash in the second decade of the new century, out of date. The inclusion of (apparently) so many non-European and non-North American artists could reveal, critic Kim Levin quoted Enwezor as saying, “not an elsewhere, but a deep entanglement.”[xxx] But it might also manage to convert that same art into an Orientalist spectacle. In a fiercely adversarial, highly critical assessment made three years after Documenta11 closed, Sylvester Ogbechie argued in 2005 that such projects are inherently and inevitably flawed and that, in the process, Documenta11 “may be constructing the conditions for a new appropriation of the ‘other’ by the West.”[xxxi] Much as Kendell Geers had before him, on the eve of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, Ogbechie was cautioning that Enwezor’s exhibition would, in fact, marginalize already marginalized communities and carelessly replicate “modernism's appropriation of African and other ‘non-Western’ arts at the beginning of the twentieth century.”[xxxii] For, at the least, the European and North American art worlds and museums had not really broken from their heritage of exoticism in the display of anyone different, and behind this lay either crude or subtle nationalisms. Likewise, in his 2004 essay for Documents magazine, October editor George Baker was to argue against Enwezor thus, on the basis that the latter identified biennials with a model of resistance against global capitalism:

For the fragmentation of the institutions of art and culture enacted by biennials today is, as I have implied, another mode of these institutions’ consolidation; the perceptual sublime of the mega-exhibition seems dedicated to a fragmentation that blinds, rather than empowers, its spectators. I don’t think we can just wish away the spectacularization inherent in this mode of fusing institutions and media that all mega-exhibitions entail.[xxxiii]

To the degree that Enwezor's revision of contemporary art’s rapidly solidifying canon was successful in the face of Baker’s criticism, then that reassessment would substantially be projected through a North Atlantic platform and inflected by the legitimate expectation that all large exhibitions in search of large publics are spectacles and include spectacular works of art.[xxxiv] The local, at Documenta11, was clearly altered by the global, pointing beyond the now-dated horizons of postmodernism and, further, towards the limits of representing identity. For unlike the curators of Magiciens de la terre, Enwezor had hardly selected any indigenous artists living in traditional communities for Documenta11 apart from Inuit collective Igloolik Isuma Productions, though he had included a multitude of artists whose work could be considered transnational, concerned with human rights or justice, and who were members of various diaspora. We can locate this emphasis in the broader context of a hotly contested theory of cosmopolitanism emerging around then, in the writing of Kwame Anthony Appiah and Indian economist Amartya Sen, in which the latter had been describing the limit of the argument that one’s identity is a matter of “discovery,” not choice.[xxxv] In this sense, Enwezor’s group of curators was not, so to speak, calling individual artists or writers to account as ambassadors and ciphers of race or ethnicity even as it seemed to many that the inherently spectacular nature of a biennial always did and always would.


Why did the organizers of a powerful art institution in the heart of Europe such as documenta want to effect such changes? Was this at last an instance of the center with a conscience and the remedy for provincialism that art historian Terry Smith had prescribed in the pages of Artforum back in 1974, in his essay “The Provincialism Problem”?[xxxvi] Smith had defined provincialism as “an attitude of subservience to an externally imposed hierarchy of cultural values.”[xxxvii] We can recognize this as a description of hegemony in action. He had used this definition to set up a model that saw the New York art world as the metropolitan center with all other art communities, including large, often culturally semi-autonomous, rich, confident North American cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, as provincial. This “almost universally shared” construction of reality became a “problematic relevant to all of us.”[xxxviii] The solution? An artist-led activism might bring about change, he felt then, and most biennial curators (and artists) feel similarly optimistic now that curator-led (and artist-led) exhibitions might have the same effect on powerful art institutions. The remedy’s plausibility seemed dubious at that point, for it was never clear in 1974 why the perpetrators of this system might wish to consider its victims and make reparations, but it is far more evident today, both in the provinces and at the center. Even if, as theorist Stewart Martin noted, “There is a persistent sense in which Documenta11 proposes a radical transformation of avant-garde art, while remaining deeply entwined within its traditional problems,” then this qualification (that Documenta11 was “deeply entwined within its traditional problems”) was inevitable for any biennial.[xxxix] None would be able to escape. The suggestions implicit in the subaltern criticisms of Documenta11 were either a separatist trajectory (documenta would then be shifted off-shore altogether and would only include non-Western artists) or even more decentralized and dispersed models of exhibition-making. Neither would have been possible. Neither trusty, austere German auditors nor the trusting German public would have ever permitted such a use of public funds (even if we can see tentative steps in this direction with 2017’s documenta 14 presented jointly in Athens and Kassel). But geographic dispersion was to be explored further in the next iterations of Manifesta, and curatorial devolution was to preoccupy curators for the rest of the decade.

For critics such as Ogbechie and others, although Documenta11 might have convincingly spelt out the passing of an avant-garde idea of art, the exhibition’s exploration of globalization’s dystopic reality was at the same time in itself a profoundly avant-garde hangover.[xl] In fairness, that was to miss the point and to unjustly refuse to take Enwezor at his word. First, Enwezor was showing that the idea of an avant-garde was never simply something of the center. Second, if critics believed that documenta needed to completely reevaluate its methods and operations in order to transform itself, then this is exactly what documenta X and Documenta11’s directors, David and Enwezor, thought they were doing. Third, globalization had prompted an unparalleled specialization in which internationally oriented curators such as Enwezor (or Hou Hanru, or Hans Ulrich Obrist, or Charles Esche, or Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev) now exercised an unmatched authority over contemporary art’s discourse.

Other exhibitions were to take up these challenges in Documenta11’s wake. But many biennials—such as Dak’Art (previously the 1992 Biennale de l’art africain contemporain) in Dakar, Senegal, which had exhibited artists from across the globe, but from 1996 onwards focused on African artists, or the Bamako Biennial in Mali (the Rencontres de Bamako, originally named the Biennale africaine de la photographie), active from 1994 onwards and dedicated to African photography—had been established long before Documenta11. Even then, there is no doubt that Documenta11 focused North Atlantic attention more closely upon such biennials; reviews of these African biennials and other events, scattered far across the globe and which had been embedded, often for a generation or more, within local art eco-systems independently of external validation, now began to appear, for example, in the pages of Artforum or Art in America. Moreover, at about this time, contemporary art media that worked through aggregation—by which we mean internet bulletins such as e-flux—began to proliferate, habituating the art world to a dispersed model of art production in tune with the flexibility and frequency of air travel rather than distilling events down to a digest, which had been the model of prestigious art journals such as Artforum. That august journal itself began to reformat itself, becoming more and more a global guide, adding a free internet edition, artforum.com, and a Chinese edition, artforum.com.cn, both of which have increasingly diverged from the print version.

Documenta11 was absolutely part of that broader transformation of contemporary art and audiences’ access to it (or at least to its mediatization). Documenta11 was thus always either going to be a spectacle, or else it would have been (as documenta X was accused) boring and austere. Or it might have skated over the reality of such issues. These seemed to be the options that awaited biennial curators in reimagining the dominant North Atlantic version of art, but both the tenth and eleventh editions of documenta had eschewed the model of a simple survey in favor of attempting to redefine the existing canon of contemporary art, ranging backwards and forwards rather than across the terrain of the present and, at least as important, redefining their audiences’ engagement with art itself as something entangled with politics and geography. The paradox was that, as Documenta11 began to exert its massive influence on subsequent biennials, Enwezor's success quickly cemented the very curatorial authority he was seeking to destabilize.

Anthony Gardner is Associate Professor in Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Oxford. He writes extensively on postcolonialism, postsocialism, and exhibition and curatorial histories, and he is one of the editors of the MIT Press journal ARTMargins. Among his books are Mapping South: Journeys in South-South Cultural Relations (Melbourne, 2013), Politically Unbecoming: Postsocialist Art Against Democracy (MIT Press, 2015), NSK From Kapital to Capital: Neue Slowenische Kunst – An Event of the Final Decade of Yugoslavia (with Eda Čufer and Zdenka Badovinac, MIT Press, 2015) and (with Charles Green) Biennials, Triennials, and documenta (Boston, Wiley-Blackwell, 2016).

Charles Green is Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Melbourne. He has written Peripheral Vision: Contemporary Australian Art 1970-94 (Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995), The Third Hand: Artist Collaborations from Conceptualism to Postmodernism (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2001), and (with Anthony Gardner) Biennials, Triennials, and documenta (Boston, Wiley-Blackwell, 2016). He was Australian correspondent for Artforum for many years. As Adjunct Senior Curator in Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, he worked as a curator on Fieldwork: Australian Art 1968-2002 (2002), world rush_4 artists (2003), 2004: Australian Visual Culture Now (ACMI/NGVA, 2004), and 2006 Contemporary Commonwealth (ACMI/NGVA, 2006). He is also an artist who has worked collaboratively with Lyndell Brown since 1989; they were Australia’s Official War Artists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

[i] Okwui Enwezor, “The Black Box,” in Okwui Enwezor et al., eds., Documenta11_Platform 5, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2002), pp. 42–55, esp. p. 42. Exhibition catalogue; see also Tim Griffin and Okwui Enwezor, “Documenta’s New Dimension,” Art Press, No. 280, June 2002, pp. 24–32. Documenta11 continued documenta’s tradition of individual typographic identities for the name of each edition of the exhibition despite capitalizing the generic title documenta, hitherto spelt with a lower-case “d”; thus the lack of a space between the word documenta and the number 11.

[ii] See Anthony Gardner and Charles Green, Biennials, Triennials and documenta: The Exhibitions That Created Contemporary Art, Wiley-Blackwell, Boston, 2016, which includes an earlier version of this essay.

[iii] Okwui Enwezor, in Chika Okeke-Agulu and Okwui Enwezor, “Interview with Okwui Enwezor, Director of the 56th Venice Biennale.” Huffington Post. December 7, 2013. Accessed 12.07.2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chika-okekeagulu/interview-with-okwui-enwe_b_4380378.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false.

[iv] Okwui Enwezor, “Introduction: Travel Notes: Living, Working, and Travelling in a Restless World,” in Okwui Enwezor, ed., Trade Routes: History and Geography: 2nd Johannesburg Biennale 1997, Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council and Thorold’s Africana Books, Johannesburg 1997, pp. 7–12, esp. 7.

[v] Enwezor, “Introduction: Travel Notes,” p. 12.

[vi] Ibid., p. 9.

[vii] Ibid., p. 12.

[viii] See Terry Smith, Thinking Contemporary Curating, 2nd edn., Independent Curators International, New York, 2012, and Julian Stallabrass’s review of Thinking Contemporary Curating in Julian Stallabrass, “Rhetoric of the Image,” Artforum, Vol. 51, No. 7, March 2013, pp. 71–72; here, Stallabrass criticizes the unique but repetitive lingo of contemporary art curatorship. In 2011, art historian Claire Bishop and curator Kate Fowle (of Independent Curators International) organized a symposium on the topic at CUNY, New York (“The Now Museum: Contemporary Art, Curating Histories, Alternative Models,” March 10–13, 2011, conference by CUNY Graduate Center, Independent Curators International, and the New Museum, New York) which, from several accounts, demonstrated this cross-disciplinary hostility and mutual incomprehension. On the other hand, art history itself now witnesses a boom in the writing of exhibition histories of contemporary art.

[ix] See Reesa Greenberg, “Identity Exhibitions: From Magiciens de la terre to Documenta 11,” Art Journal, Vol. 64, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 90–94. Three years after documenta 11, Greenberg here examined three landmark exhibitions—Magiciens de la terre, the 1993 Whitney Biennial, and Documenta11—each of which proposed an alternative to the standard North Atlantic canon by prompting audiences to look beyond Western Europe and East Coast American art centers, and pay attention to artists who continued to be marginalized on account of class and ethnicity. On account of these differences, such artists are persistently seen as derivative, primitive, or exotic. She correctly located Enwezor’s dramatic reorganization of Documenta11, with its Platforms and its expanded scale, both inside the new accounts of globalization that were emerging at the time and also within many curators’ reconsiderations of the ideal exhibition space, which was no longer to be a White Cube (though Enwezor’s display consciously took advantage of the disconnect between the serene architectural order of his installation and chaotic video images).

[x] 2002. Kim Levin. “The CNN Documenta: Art in an International State of Emergency.” Village Voice. July 2. Accessed 09.14.2015. http://www.villagevoice.com/2002-07-02/art/the-cnn-documenta/full/.

[xi] Enwezor, “The Black Box,” p. 45.

[xii] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2000.

[xiii] “Platform5_documenta11.” Accessed 10.10.2015. http://www.documenta11.de/data/english/index.html.

[xiv] Enwezor, “The Black Box,” p. 42.

[xv] Ibid., p. 49.

[xvi] Claire Bishop, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” October, No. 110, Fall 2004, pp. 51–79, esp. p. 78.

[xvii] Peter Schjeldahl, “The Global Salon,” New Yorker, Vol. 78, No. 17, July 1, 2002. Accessed 09.15.2015. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2002/07/01/020701craw_artworld.

[xviii] Wu Chin-tao also recognized the exhibition’s bias towards artists based around the North Atlantic. Important though her argument certainly is, we want to push beyond the limitations of its critique by considering why Enwezor selected the artists he did given the four other platforms and his general critique of North Atlantic hegemony. See Wu Chin-tao, “Biennials without Borders?,” New Left Review, No. 57, May–June 2009, pp. 107–115.

[xix] Anthony Gardner, Politically Unbecoming: Postsocialist Art Against Democracy, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 2015, pp. 182–186.

[xx] Thomas Hirschhorn, in Thomas Wülffen et al., “Beyond Mission Impossible,” Janus, No. 14, Summer 2003, p. 31; Thomas Hirschhorn, “Bataille Monument,” in Claire Doherty, ed., Contemporary Art: From Studio to Situation, Black Dog, London 2004, p. 137.

[xxi] Thomas Hirschhorn, conversation with Anthony Gardner, London, January 2012. Author’s notes.

[xxii] Hirschhorn, “Bataille Monument,” in Doherty, Contemporary Art, p. 137.

[xxiii] Enwezor, “The Black Box,” p. 55.

[xxiv] Catherine David, “Introduction,” in documenta X: Short Guide, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1997, pp. 6–13, esp. p. 7.

[xxv] See David, “Introduction,” and in particular note her two opening pages, esp. p. 12.

[xxvi] Chika Okeke-Agulu and Okwui Enwezor, “Interview with Okwui Enwezor, Director of the 56th Venice Biennale.”

[xxvii] For complaints about the impossible durations of the exhibition’s video exhibits, see for instance Eleanor Heartney, “A 600-Hour Documenta,” Art in America, Vol. 90, No. 9, September 2002, pp. 86–95.

[xxviii] Oliver Marchart, “Hegemonic Shifts and the Politics of Biennialization: The Case of Documenta” (2008), reprinted in Elena Filipovic, Marieke van Hal, and Solveig Øvstebø, eds., The Biennial Reader, Hatje Cantz and Bergen Kunsthalle, Bergen and Ostfildern, 2010, pp. 466–490. Oliver Marchart’s essay looked at biennials from the perspective of political science, arguing that “biennialization contributes in no small measure to the construction of local, national and continental identity,” emerging from a heritage of exoticism and nationalism (p. 467). He wondered (as had Reesa Greenberg a couple of years before) if biennials could ever escape being embedded solidly within the dominant, hegemonic culture.

[xxix] Schjeldahl, “The Global Salon” (2002); also see 2002. Michael Kimmelman, “Global Art Show with an Agenda: The Biggest Documenta Ever.” New York Times. June 18. pp. E1–E2; Eleanor Heartney, “A 600-Hour Documenta,” pp. 86–95; Kim Levin, “The CNN Documenta: Art in an International State of Emergency,” p. 57.

[xxx] Okwui Enwezor quoted in Levin, “The CNN Documenta,” p. 57.

[xxxi] Sylvester Ogbechie, “Ordering the Universe: Documenta11 and the Apotheosis of the Occidental Gaze,” Art Journal, Vol. 64, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 80–89, esp. p. 89; for similar criticisms, see Anthony Downey, “The Spectacular Difference of Documenta X1,” Third Text, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2003, pp. 85–92. Downey’s essay acknowledged the institutional constraints and conventions that both support and prescribe the form that documenta can take but then criticized the spectacle of an exhibition that imagines, he asserted, that it can proceed from a position independent of established authority. For the more directly personal and sustained attack on Enwezor on Sylvester Ogbechie’s own blog, see Sylvester Ogbechie, “The Curator as Culture Broker: A Critique of the Curatorial Regime of Okwui Enwezor in the Discourse of Contemporary African Art,” June 17, 2010. Accessed 09.15.2015. http://aachronym.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/curator-as-culture-broker-critique-of.html.

[xxxii] Ogbechie, “Ordering the Universe,” p. 89.

[xxxiii] George Baker, “The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor,” Documents, No. 23, Summer 2004, pp. 20–25, esp. p. 25.

[xxxiv] See Kobena Mercer, “Documenta11,” Frieze, No. 69, September 2002. Accessed 09.15.2015. https://www.frieze.com/issue/article/documenta_113/. Mercer correctly noticed that Enwezor’s exhibition was not simply a postcolonial documenta but was, he wrote, an ideas- and discourse-driven event, and one that sought to “redress the past exclusions carried out by ‘Westernism.’” That last point indicated the exhibition’s historiographic ambition, while the former indicated its sympathy with Catherine David’s documenta X (an exhibition, however, that was far less spectacular than Enwezor’s). Mercer noted the epochal significance of staging a “critical ‘project’ in a public arena,” especially one of such vast size. But in fact, the list of artists showed that Documenta11 was far more reliant than we retrospectively think on a familiar list of already-celebrated artist names to uphold what Mercer described as “a fairly conventional conception of global mélange.” This showed, he acutely noticed, the lack of a satisfactory curatorial vocabulary for “dealing with ‘difference’ in contemporary culture.” We might agree with him to the extent that biennials continued to present combinations of artists so that “difference” that might be relational and contingent in a different context still appeared spectacularly “other.” Of course, this was because the art was still embedded in a still-dominating Western framework for imagining postcoloniality.

[xxxv] See Amartya Sen, “East and West: The Reach of Reason,” New York Review of Books, Vol. XLVII, No. 12, July 20, 2000, pp. 33–38, esp. p, 37; Sen cited Michael Sandel, who presents this conception of community (one of several alternative conceptions he outlines): “Community describes not just what they have as fellow citizens but also what they are, not a relationship they choose (as in a voluntary association) but an attachment they discover, not merely an attribute but a constituent of their identity.” Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 2nd edn., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, p. 150; cited in Sen, “East and West,” p. 37; see, just as pertinently, Kwame Anthony Appiah’s introduction and his Chapter 4, “Moral Disagreement,” in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2006, pp. xi–xxi, and pp. 45–67.

[xxxvi] See Terry Smith, “The Provincialism Problem,” Artforum, Vol. 13, No. 1, September 1974, pp. 54–59; and Terry Smith, “The Provincialism Problem: Then and Now”, ARTMargins, Vol. 6, No. 1, February 2017, pp. 6–32. For a different re-examination of this essay, see Charles Green and Heather Barker, “The Provincialism Problem: Terry Smith and Centre–Periphery Art History,” Journal of Art Historiography, No. 3, December 2010. Accessed 09.15.2015. http://arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/media_183176_en.pdf.

[xxxvii] Smith, “The Provincialism Problem,” p. 54.

[xxxviii] Ibid., p. 55.

[xxxix] Stewart Martin, “A New World Art? Documenting Documenta11,” Radical Philosophy, No. 122, November–December 2003, pp. 7–19, esp. p. 10.

[xl] Ogbechie, “Ordering the Universe,” p. 84.

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Issue 33

the documenta issue

by Nanne Buurman & Dorothee Richter

by Vesna Madžoski

by Ayşe Güleç