Talking about d5 and Joseph Beuys

In June 2012, Matthew Schum traveled to Germany to create an account of Documenta 13. This project was loosely inspired by an urstyle of art criticism that independently commissioned writers used to cover the Paris Salons in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. These Salon Reviews often took an à la carte approach to the inordinate exhibitions held annually by the state’s Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. Upon compiling a series of entries gathered on the move in the opening days, these journals would be modestly bound as handbooks made to be transported easily, perused topically and potentially disposed of like a daily thereafter.

Documenting DOCUMENTA attempts to apply this practical invention to the pervasive use of weblogs today. Blogs share with the handbook the tactical benefit of being itinerant and informal. As an appropriated format, it affords the writer an opportunity to intervene in a spectacle and to curate a more biased, focused and faceted account of the many ‘Salons’ currently held around the globe each year. The drift of the project is that the reader can imagine a little pamphlet bound, so to speak, by a current and fugitive technology, that is less glossy than art magazines and more adventurous than condensed newspaper reviews tend to be.

The Legacy of Beuys’ Erweiterter Kunstbegriff

Matthew Schum: I was eavesdropping from one of the tables out in front of the Fridericianum when I overheard you talking about your experience in 1972 at Documenta 5, curated by Harald Szeemann. This exhibition marks a turning point in contemporary art credited with making Documenta what it is today. You said it was clear at the time that the exhibition was a complete redefinition of art. What made it seem so different in 1972?

Dirk Schwarze: The visitors of art exhibitions expected paintings, drawings and sculptures. But in Documenta 5 they saw photos, videos, a circle of stones (Richard Long), an igloo, artworks of people with mental defects and actions (performances). A lot of people didn’t accept this change—most of them didn’t know Dada, Fluxus and Arte Povera. There had been many people who thought that this would be Entartete Kunst (degenerate art).

MS: How did the Joseph Beuys’ Organization for Direct Democracy installation reflect this change in art at that time?

DS: It was during the third Documenta that Joseph Beuys had been invited. In 1964 and 1968 he had shown objects and installations. Now, in 1972, he didn’t show anything because he realized, for the first time, his new understanding of art (Erweiterter Kunstbegriff). In the center of his Documenta work he stood thinking and talking.

MS: What was your role in the Organization for Direct Democracy ?

BeuysJoseph Beuys standing in his Documenta office in 1972 (photo: Dirk Schwarze)

DS: I was sitting in the background of the office for the whole day (from 10:00am to 8:00pm) and writing down what the visitors said to Beuys and what he himself answered. Most of the visitors didn’t notice me.

MS: What responses by the audience stand out in your mind? Were they in general angered or amused?

DS: Some visitors thought Beuys had become stupid; others were amused or asked what this discussion had to do with art. But most of them were engaged, very strongly.

MS: How did you and your fellow collaborators feel about working with Beuys? What experience did you walk away with?

DS: At first I didn’t know exactly the meaning of Beuys’ discussions, but we felt that they were important for the future of art. For myself, it was the starting point for a lot of talks with Beuys. If you look on my internet blog ( ) you will see how often I wrote about Beuys.

MS: Thank you Herr Schwarze.


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