Art Under the Sway of Postmodernism

Manfred Schneckenburger saves the documenta a second time
One of the curious contradictions of the history of the documenta is that a curator who had no special backing in the art scene had to intervene a second time to save the exhibition. Following documenta 6, Manfred Schnecken-burger had to take a lot of stick although his show included a series of remarkable sections. The image had been further tarnished by the organizational chaos around the opening in 1977 and the vehement criticism of the paintings. Originally, a 30-member nomination committee was sup-posed to appoint the documenta director for 1987. But this committee was adversely affected by the fact that around ten of its members were exhibition directors each of whom thought he could put on the next documenta all by himself. Thus, it is no surprise that the committee chose a com-promise candidate who was known for quality but was con-sidered a staunch conservative. The job was given to the director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Edy de Wilde, who was on the verge of retirement. Both the nomi-nation committee and the board had an uneasy feeling, which was reflected by the fact that Wilde was obliged in June 1983 to form an executive team together with one of his rivals. When Wilde opted for Harald Szeemann, things seemed to be moving in the right direction. But the direc-torial duo gave up soon, stepping down in late 1984. Once again, the board was left with a complete mess. And once again, a rapidly formed electing committee chose Man-fred Schneckenburger as a stopgap. documenta 8 offered a dazzling panorama of art harbouring many contradictions. The exhibition made several statements. It became what was likely the most important documenta for performance. It was also a pioneering show in terms of the further development of video installations and in the border area between sculp-ture, architecture and design. It was imbued with the spirit of postmodernism, which made use of the formal repertoire of art history and played with different elements. At the same time, Schneckenburger partially achieved what Arnold Bode had always striven for, combining art and architecture in one exhibition. The exhibition featured architectural sculptures by Thomas Schütte and Heinrich Brummack as well as models of the ideal museum made by architects at Schneckenburger’s behest. documenta 8 united a larger number of outstanding works. Gerhard Richter was given his own room to present his con-trary yet interwoven styles of painting. The presentations of Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Merz were also compelling. The exhibition owed its idiosyncratic character to the politico-critical works on view. If the entrance area of the Museum Fridericianum contained a programmatic credo by the ex-hibition management since documenta 7 at the latest, the contribution of Hans Haacke was the secret slogan of docu-menta 8. Haacke, who lived in New York, had created a space on the ground floor of the rotunda that looked like the entrance hall of a company headquarters. Discreet panels were set up, and small trees. In the middle was a shiny sculpture erected out of advertising signs from Deutsche Bank and Mercedes. Something that could be seen as being very representative and elegant contained a searing indict-ment. For both companies had not followed the call for a boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The large photo of the burial of an apartheid victim that was visible in the Deutsche Bank logo forged the link. But the art of the third world remained absent.

Translation: Burke Barrett

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