Roger M. Buergel took unfamiliar paths at documenta 12
It was almost uncanny how expectant and hopeful art critics writing for major German newspapers were. They talked about an immi-nent revolution and about the attempt to venture a new beginning by returning to Arnold Bode. Detailed positive preview articles and supplements raised people’s hopes even more. Throughout the history of the documenta, there had never been anything like this before, especially since the German critic and curator Roger M. Buergel, who lived in Vienna, was unknown to most people when he was appointed and did not have a single major exhibition under his belt. Almost inevitably, the mood changed after the opening. While some wanted to get back at the euphoric master-minds, others seemed to retract the praise they had bestow-ed in advance. Some critics came down so hard on documenta 12 that they even questioned the future of the event. The most popular point of criticism was the Aue Pavilion on the Karlsaue meadows that Roger M. Buergel had announced as a crystal palace but which had become a normal greenhouse due to the covers and air-conditioners. But the fact that the poppy field did not blossom at the time of the opening and the rice terraces below Wilhelmshöhe Palace remained a torso was also a welcome occa-sion for a general dressing-down. So most of them did not find out that, four weeks later, Friedrichsplatz had transformed into a coherent image for the first time. And very few registered how well the ex-hibition worked in the much-maligned Aue Pavilion and how grateful visitor groups were for the spacious rooms and for the rest zones in which antique chinese chairs brought to Kassel by the artist Ai Weiwei invited visitors to take a seat. The response from the public in general ran counter to the at times harsh criticism. Roger M. Buergel, who organized the exhibition with Ruth Noack, the curator of the event, continued down the path that Catherine David and Okwui Enwezor had created. But Buergel and Noack looked back even further than Catherine David had done ten years earlier. On the one hand, they wanted to show how strongly some formal principles persisted through the centuries (migration of forms), and on the other they demonstrated that the avant-garde of the 1960s was much broader and much more female than we had thought. Some of the works executed back then, more than 40 years previously, were more exciting than many a contemporary work. Buergel had formulated three key questions: Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? What is to be done? These leitmotifs not only influenced the thinking of the orga-nizers. The documenta team prompted worldwide discussion of these questions. Buergel achieved this aim in cooperation with his friend and colleague Georg Schöllhammer (“Springerin”) through an international magazine project in which 90 magazines took part. Thanks to this project, the documenta had established a comprehensive global network for the first time. And thanks to this network, the team could forge ahead into lesser-known art regions.
Translation: Burke Barrett