Julia Moritz is an art historian and curator with a focus on experimental public programming and education. She worked as “Curator of Theory and Programmes” at Kunsthalle Zurich, and headed "The Maybe Education and Public Programs" of dOCUMENTA (13), in Kassel (2012). Previously, Moritz taught contemporary art history at the University of Lüneburg (2012), where she organized exhibitions and event programs for the University’s art space, Kunstraum. In addition, she has worked on major exhibitions such as Manifesta 7 in Trentino/Alto Adige (2008); the German Pavilion at the 52nd Biennale di Venezia (2007) and has independently curated several smaller scale projects such as the Young Girl Reading Group Show (with Dorota Gaweda and Egle Kulbokaite, 2016). Moritz also co-edited the volume Question of the Day (2007) in which she puts forward a dialogical inquiry into the formats used for art production and distribution that she further elaborated in a PhD dissertation (2010) on institutional critical practice in spaces of conflict, mainly written in collaboration with the Whitney Independent Studies Program, New York.
1. What was your motivation to work at dOCUMENTA(13)? What was your position/task?
I was hired by Chus Martínez (Head Curator of dOCUMENTA (13)) as the Head of the Department that we called “Maybe Education and Other Programs.” I was working as a curator and lecturer at the University Gallery in Lüneburg (near Hamburg) at the time; it was my first job after my PhD on Institutional Critique, which I started after two biennial jobs, as Curatorial Assistant for the German Pavilion of the Biennale di Venezia (2007) and Assistant Curator (a small but crucial difference) for Manifesta (2008). My motivation to accept this challenge was to merge these two rather distinct professional passions: experimental art education/theory and sustainable large-scale curatorial work, because I felt (and still strongly feel) that the two can greatly benefit from each other.
2. How would you describe the model of the biennial you worked for? Also compared to other biennials?
How to describe? In words, I shall say ; ) Even though that’s actually harder than it may sound. Perhaps a diagram might be better suited, in fact, or a mind-map perhaps, a map of a multitude of minds, rather… Well, okay, let me try:
The main difference between dOCUMENTA and other biennials is that dOCUMENTA is technically not even a biennial, simply because it does not take place every other year but only every fifth year. This “larger” cycle of documentas allows for more in-depth research, planning, and fundrasing (in theory…). Yet, this also leads to a magnification of the biennial format, to some sort of an über-biennial—what began as a small annex to a local garden show in 1955 is now the world’s largest art exhibition in motivation and visitation. However, the growth of the host city, Kassel, does not match the growth of the biennial, or “the art world” for that matter, which means that the nearly one million visitors of dOCUMENTA(13) stampeded over only a fifth of the number of inhabitants (about 200,000) in 100 days—an unparalleled disproportion with a particular and growing responsibility for each edition’s specific education department.
3. What goals are connected with your biennials? Were they achieved?
To answer this question I must mention another crucial difference among biennials: the definition of the education department that varies or depends on the changing artistic directors and curatorial departments—or rather belongs to the permanent, more managerial team. There are lots of advantages and disadvantages for both scenarios, as always. In dOCUMENTA (13)’s case, my department was part of the edition’s specific extended curatorial team. In short: I can only speak of the goals of this specific edition. And still, those goals were extremely diverse: from the managerial (visitation, budget, reputation), curatorial/educational point of view, to the hundred different artistic aspirations for each individual project. Overall, I would say, it was a rather successful and satisfying edition for most of the individuals involved. Creating a bit of productive confusion/tension (in the tradition of skepticism, or the speculative method of the question) on almost all sides (see the typeface) was part of the curatorial concept, so I would say that this overarching goal was well achieved.
4. Biennials have proliferated as the art world has scaled in size and global reach in recent decades; however, very little information exists about the exact number, geographical reach, and funding and governance structures of these arts organisations. Can we compare biennials at all?
Well, not being able to compare them would mean there is zero data available, which is not the case. My impression is rather the opposite: the growth of biennial studies seems proportional to the proliferation of the format itself. Basically, you just need to consider those proportions carefully, as with every site-specific and of course historically-specific cases, i.e. the number of editions in relation to the general growth of artistic production, presentation, and reception; the number of artists on view, staff, budget in relation to the city/region’s funding, inhabitants, art institutions, and so forth. For example, an important aspect for comparing biennials’ educational requirements is that a relatively reliable parameter to measure the local audience’s position on the spectrum of "familiarity-alienation with contemporary art" is the existence, size, and quality (international teachers, gallery, etc.) of a local art academy and the resulting presence of art students in the city. In short: yes, a fairly complex but fairly rewarding comparative research.
5. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art, and catalyze interest in regions with global aspirations. Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
Again, the definition of “positive” varies greatly with regard to the history and geography of a biennial’s situation/situatedness. And, of course, it is a rather ideological term: who benefits from the definition of “positive”—for what and when? In most cases (I would dare say ‘all’), biennials are products of an intricate cultural-political tissue, mostly of a broader infrastructural nature, such as the city/regional marketing you mention. And you say it rightly, being in close connection with the attribute “global”—and the “positive” narration of globalization’s social and economic impact—is certainly and luckily a thing of the past, overcome by newer definitions of "positive," such as “(trans)locality” and “sustainability.” I do think that most biennials have understood this paradigmatic shift and adjusted their aims and means, like, for example, with growing education departments and budgets. The best model for studying this aspect of social and economic impact is certainly Manifesta, the biennial that changes its location for every edition, even though their data is rather hard to get, due to (as far as i know) an anxiety produced by one edition in its history that was entirely cancelled (Manifesta 6 in Cyprus).
6. Can you talk about funding processes and resources? How do you think this affects the biennial, if at all?
I will say this: everyone who answers this question negatively ("no, the resources don’t affect my biennial") is highly suspect—of a number of crimes, most importantly of naiveté. It is dangerous.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
If only your listed factors—“curatorial and institutional”—will be decisive for biennials’ destiny, we should be pretty safe concerning the “vibrancy and relevance” of this format. If, in contrast, managerial and political “innovations” will pave the way for future biennials, they will function as just another artistically well-oiled marketing machine, like gallery or even museum franchises (see “The Bilbao Effect”). And this is not to play out logistics versus content (as is so often the case in biennial criticism). I believe that both elements are and must be intertwined to make things happen. However, the power play at stake in any organization’s development is the pitfall: the bigger the pit, the bigger the fall—like the recent unfortunate aftermath of dOCUMENTA14. Technology today, always, and forever, figures as an instrument in the hands of the beholder (however animate it may be conceived of)—is this the saber for future enlightenment?