this nytimes article
February 12, 2002 6:08 PM   Subscribe

this nytimes article about okwui enwezor, the first non-european to head documenta (kind of like the olympics for art, but unfortunately always held in the town of kassel, germany) mentions an "anonymous and scandal-spreading e- mail message" which was sent to artworld honchos. in light of the fact that his curatorial style has a lot of artists and critics justifiably perturbed, i wonder what's in the email. of course i wonder what's in the email because it might be juicy, but i attempt to justify my curiousity to myself and to you.
posted by subpixel (17 comments total)
Documenta is definitely a major deal, but the Venice Biennale, with its national pavilions, is more like the Olympics of art.
posted by liam at 6:35 PM on February 12, 2002

These are remarkable achievements for a man who never set out to be a curator, who never studied art history and whose own talents are more drawn to the written word than to any other form of expression.


"I can't understand how you can sequester art from politics and social upheaval," he said.


...having an `eye' in the old-fashioned sense of the world — have become largely irrelevant to the field of contemporary art," said James Rondeau, associate curator of contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago. "Today the role of the image is so deeply integrated into everyday life that many of the most significant thinkers about modern and contemporary art come from outside the field."

It is statements like these that really sum up the jaw-dropping irrelevancy of the 'contemporary art' world. Having attended several art hotbed colleges/universities that traffic in the sort of 'cultural studies 101' mishmash that is brilliantly illustrated by the craptacular Documenta, I often wonder what people outside this loop think of this stuff.

In no other field would anyone valorize people who know nothing about that particular field to the point of raising them to the status of head organizer of a major exhibition.

Documenta is a European phenomena, and no one except Europeans (mostly Germans) and those in the US who harbor dipshit Euro pretenses care a tinkers about what goes on at Documenta.

This weird subclass of academics that have attached themselves, like parasitic leeches, to art's sinking corpse for one reason: it gives all the failed Marxist Post-Structuralists a way to make loads of cash without doing anything and without feeling guilty about it. Read Thomas Wagner's right-on opposition to the show here.

Documenta is like the Cornell West of Art Exhibitions: lots o talk, pseudo intellectual, hell, pseudo everything, and as insubstantial as mist. But at least Cornell believes in poetry.
To paraphrase Woody Allen: Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym. And those who can't do anything become art curators.
posted by evanizer at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2002

and no one except Europeans

Evan, if you ever come to Europe you'll find there are lot of pleasant things no one except Europeans like and do well. You know: art, music, literature, food, clothes...yawn. Why is it even sophisticated, forward-looking Americans such as yourself now and again give in to such indigent provincialism and insularity? You might as well add to your Woody Allen "paraphrase"(it was in fact a European, G.B. Shaw who said "Those who can, do. Those who can't teach")that those who can't even become art curators write disparaging remarks about them on MetaFilter. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:45 AM on February 13, 2002

I said nothing disparaging about Europeans; I merely said that no one except Europeans really care about Documenta, which is mostly true in my experience. It's a European event, held in a German city. so it makes sense. And the 'dipshit Euro pretenses' remark is aimed at Americans who take the traditional line that 'Europe' = taste, refinement and a generally higher sphere of life forms, rather than examining the outstanding features of their own culture as being just as refined and wonderful as anything that happens in Europe. It's a specific attitude that's prevalent among a certain sector of the American intelligentsia, and it's ridiculous in this day and age, in my opinion. If I inferred that Europeans are dipshits, I apologize, although there are quite a lot of Europeans that sit on their velvet upholstered thrones of nobility and pronounce Americans a bunch of vulgar, tasteless cowboys and receive no brow beating for doing it. Probably because it's true. But I rather like vulgar, tasteless cowboys. Makes for a much better party.

I rather like Woody Allen's extension of the quote better than Shaw's oh-so-snippy original retort. And I don't quote vegetarians, so Shaw is out.

And career wise, I'm doing well Miguel. I just happen to care about my vocation (do you know what I do?) enough to get angry when people with no qualifications and (in my opinion) no insight command such power over art discourse. I consider it an affront to artists who have devoted their lives to something Mr. Enwezor considers irrelevant.
posted by evanizer at 1:42 AM on February 13, 2002

Thanks for that, Evan. Now it's my turn to apologize for being too touchy - but there's definitely some anti-European bias in what you've written here. You say your phrase "Euro dipshit pretenses" was meant to criticize Americans who like Europe? Please. What's so wrong about an American thinking Europe is more sophisticated and refined? It is, by the way - if only because it's been going a bit longer than the U.S.

As someone who is often criticized for liking America more than Europe I think the whole "us versus them" thing is absolutely absurd. You just can't divorce the two cultures.

And how can you criticize Documenta - which is a major international art exhibition - without referring to the many important works they show there? Without mentioning, you know, the artists? How can you say "Documenta is like the Cornell West of art exhibitions?". What's eating you man? It even sounds as if you're dissing Enwezor and West for being outsiders or something.

Why do you immediately think "America" when you say "Europe" and vice-versa? There's no competition. Art is art. And, since you like cowboys as much as I do, you must have heard of the West, right? You know, like in Western civilization. ;)

P.S. It wasn't a "retort" of our vegetarian(and probably virgin)friend, it's a line from his play "Man and Superman".
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:28 AM on February 13, 2002

But I rather like vulgar, tasteless cowboys. Makes for a much better party.

Assume I like Documenta. Either I like it because I idolize the Europeans, or there's a slight possibility I'm interested in the goings-on? So art is dead -- this doesn't mean that what's left of it isn't interesting. The forensics aren't nearly done yet. Now, the truth is that I don't care for Documenta, but I still find it interesting as a cultural exercise. This neither makes me one of those in the US who harbor dipshit Euro pretenses nor am I one of the Americans who take the traditional line that 'Europe' = taste, though I certainly know enough of them.

American culture, to put it bluntly, "sucks ass." I have been able to attend maybe one decent opera, ever, and only two or three cities across America get decent exhibits, while where I am suffers. The cowboys do not appeal to all of us, and that fact does not imply that our tastes are borrowed or fraud meant to impress friends.

Besides, art may have died in this century, but cowboys were gone before it even started. *fetches barbed wire*
posted by j.edwards at 3:10 AM on February 13, 2002

My my my, thinking about art, having a discourse about something as "inconsequential in the real world" as art, how it still heats our blood (don't worry, I love it as much as you do Evan, although I don't paint, I dance).
I really miss the time that I still believed in a definable canon of art, with demonstrable categories of high/low/folk, and cleanly describable genres; and behind that the promise of an understandable and philosophically rigorous esthetics. But I don't, and I think not many really want to return to the days of such shallow certainty.
So: the time that we could think about art as something essentially divorced from the "reality" of "the world around us" (and I don't use those, thingies, (what are they called in USian?) to be snidely ironic but to indicate those words do mean different things to different people) is over, if only because there are too many artists, artviewers, artlisteners in the world today who don't keep to those old boundaries. So it's inevitable that artcriticism and the views on esthetics should change as well, following the changes the artists initiate. Sometimes I'm sad or angry about that, art would have made a great, safe haven if it were still as divorced from that real world as it (now) seems to have been in the past. Only: it probably wasn't, anyway. And hiding like that is probably not that good an idea, anyway.

Which doesn't mean art should have societal or (administrotor forbid) political significance, or that craft should be considered so irrelevant as is the sad fashion nowadays. But: you know, it's an evolving thing. Documenta may not show anything that inspires you, fashion in art as anywhere may seem like a bitch, fashion is ridiculous, fashion is everywhere; you're an artist, you try to develop something true, everybody else just wants to see the latest thing. Bleh. But: this esthetic discourse is an evolving thing, and it will swing around to a different viewpoint like e.g. yours in a while, and then that will be fashion. What's to be done about it?
You paint, Miguel writes, I dance; we all hope some people come watch and read our work and they'll enjoy it. And they will.

Disclaimer (hopefully superfluous): this wasn't meant as a rebuttal to any of the views you expressed there, Evan. Mine are as always in a state of evolution, and I took the fact that your vitriolic indictment of pomo glibness got my goat as a challenge to develop them some more, by writing them out.
posted by disso at 3:29 AM on February 13, 2002

j.edwards: some forms of art may have died, others may have mutated beyond recognition (e.g. opera into videoclip. Crass maybe, but plausible, to me anyway); and it's awful to live in a place where you can't find the sustenance you need.
I found that in order to see a continuity of art from 19th to 21st century I have to redefine it: art is not anymore exclusively what you learn in academies by studying the classics, as it was in 19th century fashion (although great artists still follow that route); it makes more sense to me to call all that stuff "art" that people put into their senses because it nourishes their sensibilities, satisfies a mental need, is enjoyable in all kinds of different ways which are not dependent on physical necessities. Yes, that's a very slidy scale, and a very slippery slope. But I'm still able to feel what I need in my own creating or enjoying art; this definition, while being inclusive (maybe too inclusive for those who'd prefer some frigging standards to adhere to, don't "they" ever get enough of that old "Anything Goes"? sheesh...) doesn't force me to be inclusive myself, I'll still have my own set of values and predilections about what art should do for me, and a willingness to let myself be surprised, as well.
What I like especially is that it disposes me to better understand and from time to time thoroughly enjoy a plethora of other styles, genres, fashions, subcultures and hypes which would otherwise have stayed outside of my perspective because I didn't have the ability to see them as something which can be art, and thus enjoyable, to someone.

You don't have to like cowboy-culture, and what there is now may be thoroughly fake. But if it's the only game in town, why not delve into it, find out why people enjoy that silly stuff, anyway? Just as an experiment...
posted by disso at 4:03 AM on February 13, 2002

The email is very "juicy" by the way and involves more than players than just the sender. He is basically accused of rape. Rumor in the art world is that it is not the first time. Rumor also is the "incident" in NY at his place was more than just a noise complaint and that he completely flipped, destroying a lot of stuff. This was during a dinner party with guests. Rumor is also that he is a very heavy drinker. There is much more detail to these stories floating around but this is the outline. But remember, these are rumors that have not been flushed out yet. But, many people think his career might be finished.
posted by anathema at 4:44 AM on February 13, 2002

still sounds like it could be from a disgruntled artist (probably someone who can actually draw) -- as much as i disagree with enwezor's aesthetic i think his accusors should come out and face the light of day. or at least they shoudl email me the full text.
posted by subpixel at 7:29 AM on February 13, 2002

The locus of Documenta11 is one of debate and contestation in which a constellation of theoretical ideas cross with praxis. Planned as intellectually rigorous and methodologically adventurous, the culmination of the platforms as an exhibition unfolds the complex vicissitudes that shape the Documenta11 exhibition when it opens on June 8, 2002.

The platforms can be understood then as constellations that open up a critical review of processes of a range of knowledge production. Equally, these platforms perform a second operation in that they allow Documenta11 the opportunity to render transparent the dimension of its intellectual interest and curatorial research. Hence the entire conceptual orientation of the exhibition is decidedly interdisciplinary, connecting a wide range of scholars, philosophers, artists, and filmmakers, institutions, cities, and audiences.
The locus of Documenta11 is one of debate and contestation, intellectually rigorous; methodologically adventurous more than any exhibition of contemporary art.

This is the mission statement of the exhibition. Could anyone translate? [JOKE] My question: What does any of this have to do with art?

After visiting Documenta's website[WARNING: contains irritating javascript page resizer] for about 10 minutes, I was unable to find any mention of artists that would be participating in this show, nor any mention of what exactly are the criteria or even the purpose of including ANY visual arts at all.

My problem with Documenta is that it isn't really an art exhibit. It is, as Thomas Wagner put it, "a traveling postgraduate course in which a small flock of the initiated doles out politically correct tuition for all those who were not paying attention when "cultural studies" was on the curriculum, or who simply refuse to succumb to this discipline's claim to power." The topics of the 'Platforms' have little to do with visual, sound, theatrical or any other form of art. If Documenta wants to be a circle jerk for confused acad3emics, then so be it. But why even go through the pretense of including art at all? There aren't even very many artists on any of the "Platform" panels.

My problem is with the conflation of this sort of pseudo intellectualization and artist's production. It robs all makers of 'cultural products' of their perhaps most valuable identity: as ones who set the terms of the debate for the curators and academics to follow, not vice versa. It should be left up to the artists, filmmakers, etc. to set the form of the discussion, indeed, to render the totally boring and inconsequential topics of these panel discussions into something dynamic and challenging and more affecting than a fargin' seminar.

Miguel: I am the MOST interested in the important artworks that would go on there. I just can't find them buried in an avalanche of grad school double speak that Enwezor and his buddies seem to be burying it in by the truckload. If this purports to be an art exhibition, then the focus should be on the art, not on panel discussions where a 'constellation of theoretical ideas cross with praxis'.

Not all of the Documentas have been so remiss in their focus on art and artists. Jan Hoet's Documenta 9 is described on the Documenta site as
"a documenta of locations” and one based “solely on the artist and his work”. In not pursuing a theoretical concept with documenta 9, or offering a general thematic context, Hoet effectively broke with a documenta principle that had decisively shaped the exhibition's character at least since d5"
And I am dissing Enwezor for being an outsider in the sense that he unashamedly claims to have no background in art at all, whether it be film, painting, dance, or whatever. He is a writer, but I fail to see how that qualifies him to oversee an event whose central focus is supposed to be an art exhibition. As for Cornell West, I cite him as a prime example of an academic who drowns his work in the same kind of choppy jargon and tenuous scholarship. I could have said Baudrillard, but he seems rather out of the loop. I hope you weren't suggesting there is some racial bias on my part in criticizing Enwezor's structuring of Documenta or in my comparison to West- I wouldn't respect you anymore if you did that. There are loads and loads of Europeans who are just as awash in pretension, I just chose West of the top of my head. 'Otherness' does not make one immune from criticism, not in my book, anyway. I'm as other as the next guy.

As for distinguishing between Europe and America, I think there is a substantive difference between the arts of Europeans and the arts of Americans, and this is a good thing. The cultures of both places (and within both places) are substantially different, which is reflected in the artistic output of both places. I think the differences wrought by local traditions, cultures, problesm, outlooks makes for much more interesting work. While it may all be art, there should be a thriving diversity within, based on differences in each artist's local experience. Contrast any very American artist with a very European one, and the differences are clear, like Robert Gober and Sigmar Polke or Olafur Eliasson and Liz Craft. All are interesting artists, but very different and specific to their homeland.

Again, one could be interested in the subject of the Documenta Platforms, fine. Then leave us visual or sonic artists out of it. But Documenta purports to be centered in an art exhibition. So my message to this curator (and all would-be curators): We don't need you. You need us. Don't forget it.
posted by evanizer at 12:55 PM on February 13, 2002

Hey Evan, well put! Thanks, and thanks for the new tagline:
Metafilter: we're all as Other as the next guy.

Other than that: let's look forward to a productive discussion between writers, painters, theatricals, philosophers, even if that isn't going to happen at a Documenta... sounds like I'm lobbying for some sort of ArtsFilter. ArFi? Nah, doesn't sound right. Would be cool though, I'd read that more than MeFi. Even more.
posted by disso at 3:36 PM on February 13, 2002

Oh, yeah! I think ArtFilter is a great idea- a sort of MeFi for the humanities, free from Israel-Palestine debates and wacky news links! Who's gonna ask Matt?
posted by evanizer at 4:56 PM on February 13, 2002

Not many hanging around this thread anymore who'll notice this idea has popped up, but I'm certain a lot of MeFites would enjoy participating. However, I have at the moment neither time, skill, money nor serverspace to start setting anything up. We'll lobby for a bit & keep in touch though, right?
posted by disso at 12:10 AM on February 14, 2002

Oh, yeah! I think ArtFilter is a great idea- a sort of MeFi for the humanities, free from Israel-Palestine debates and wacky news links! Who's gonna ask Matt?

Slipping offtopic, when I saw sportsfilter, I speculated about artsfilter, thinking it might be a nice idea. However, the more I think about it, the worse it sounds. I won't admit that Metafilter has had it yet, even though it's painful to read these days. I've been watching it flip-flop for a while, between too much crap, too much self-policing, too much crap, and granted, it's not looking well, but my hope is that at some point the pendulum will stop swinging and the site will stabilise again. It won't ever stabilise to what it was at its best, but it may become usable again. It's not time to start carving up the corpse yet. At least, that's my belief.
posted by walrus at 2:40 AM on February 14, 2002

walrus, nice one, I sort of skimmed that "Son of Metafilter meets the bastard offspring of the virgin-bride of Mathowie in Queso-space!"-thread, and your idea didn't stick with me then.
I think it shouldn't have to be a MeFi-clone for the arts, it should be a platform for exchange of links, news and views on the humanities, where delving deeper and sweeping broader into any theme would be more welcome and more appreciated than in MeFi proper; simply because the users would be a more specific group: people who are involved with the humanities, whether as artists, scientists, connaisseurs or just because they're heaps of fun (I think they are, you know).
There are heaps of lists, blogs, fora, boards for the wildest variety of communities of interest, and lots of boards where these themes are discussed in a knowledgeable fashion, but I don't yet know of any that is specifically set up to focus on the humanities. Anybody knows of sites that already do what I'm after here?
posted by disso at 6:43 AM on February 14, 2002

I hope you weren't suggesting there is some racial bias on my part in criticizing Enwezor's structuring of Documenta or in my comparison to West- I wouldn't respect you anymore if you did that.

Shit, now I'm offended. No, just joking. As a painter you do seem to have something against outsiders and interlopers. It's normal for painters to hate curators but it's generally more of a love-hate thing. But you also seem to argue that there is some antagonism between contemporary American art and European art. In this day and age?

What worries me is that you consistently, in a Herder-like way(and he was the greatest philosophical apologist of cultural differences)stress the importance of the culture artists come from:

All are interesting artists, but very different and specific to their homeland.

Homeland? Isn't art, not being mainly language-based, supposed to transcend this homeland rubbish? How could you tell Gober is American, if you didn't know it? And aren't all Americans from some other culture or country as well? Doesn't everyone(who's interested)read the same magazines and keep up with the same exhibitions, whether they're in Paris, New York or Berlin?

A lot of European artists are influenced by Americans and vice-versa. Besides, Europe is not one country like the U.S. It's wildy different, as you know. I could just as easily point out the difference between British art and German art.

I don't because I think it's not that important. Art is a universal language. Only on the critical plane is it interesting to know which country they're from. Outsiders are good. Mixing is good. Confusion, as far as culture is concerned, is good. Saying "German art" is just convenient. Saying there is a German art is, well, dangerous.

Although certain painters I admire, like Kiefer, could only be German, the fact that anyone can admire his paintings without knowing anything about German culture - or caring - seems much more important.

It's difficult, right? Makes it all the more interesting.

That's all I was saying, Evan. I've enjoyed your comments here enormously, by the way. I hadn't realized you were a painter - I'm now officially a fan since visiting your website an hour ago - but that's no reason for me to go all humble and let you get away with your aesthetic militancy. But still, I would have understood your passion a lot better if I'd known and I apologize if I was too strident in my equally passionate disagreement with every single thing you've said here. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2002

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