Almost the Whole World of Images

With documenta 5 there was a shift in art presentation
The documenta organised by the Swiss art critic and curator Harald Szeemann in 1972 was seen by the public as being the biggest caesura in the history of the exhibition. There were several reasons for this. The most important one was probably the fact that the conventional idea of art no longer worked. Art was no longer associated only with images, ob-jects and spaces, but suddenly also with actions and events, photographs and videos, stone circles and discussion rooms. Only few visitors were prepared for this. Those visitors and critics who still had not become reconcil-ed with modernism made a last stand against the unbridled extension of the concept of art. But even critics who were proponents of modernism had difficulty coming to terms with the perceived chaos of the image worlds, between the seemingly religious sacrificial rites of a Hermann Nitsch and the Agitprop images of a Jörg Immendorff. Ultimately, however, art was at the centre. But its forms of expression could not have been more contrary: photo-rea-lis-tic painting and almost life-like human sculptures; Joseph Beuys’ “Office for Direct Democracy by Referendum”; the sing-song of Fritz Schwegler, who in the style of broadsheet balladeers recited texts to cardboard panels; and Richard Long’s stone circle and Panamarenko’s airship. Around this core of the exhibition, Szeemann and his team had en-cy-clopaedically grouped sections with image worlds that did not always have much to do with art. Today, documenta 5 is regarded as the turning point in the history of the exhibition. It opened the door to the art of the last third of the twentieth century. The succeeding ex-hibitions, up to Jan Hoet’s DOCUMENTA IX, were influenced by it. And all later documenta directors repeatedly referred to Szeemann. Only gradually did people become aware of what documenta 5 had accomplished. Attention was drawn away from the fact that it was a pioneering achievement, among other things, because Harald Szeemann was personally held liable for the deficit of 800,000 deutschmarks. Only after the exhibition and museum directors had threatened to never again sup-port an exhibition project in Kassel, did those responsible back away from recourse claims. Among other things, Kassel associated documenta 5 with the painful experience that the exhibition, which was creat-ed by citizens of the city and headed for 13 years by Arnold Bode, had taken on a life of its own and become inter-natio-nal. For the first time, the threads of the planning did not come together in Kassel, but in distant Berne. And Arnold Bode, who after the experiences of 1968 had bid adieu to the documenta council as the executive exhibition committee and together with others proposed that a secretary general should be installed, suddenly realized that he and his col-leagues in Kassel no longer played a role. He was still a figurehead, ensuring that Edward Kienholz’ “environment”, or walk-in installation, “Five Car Stud” was shown in a tent next to the Neue Galerie, but it was the first documenta without him.

Translation: Burke Barrett

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