Catherine David’s documenta X was a turning point and a bone of contention
There was speculation in advance about whether a woman could and should direct the documenta. After all, there were many female curators who directed exhibition halls or museums nationally or internationally. When the French-woman Catherine David was selected and appointed, people were very surprised because no one had thought of her as a candidate. Perhaps this was the initial reason Catherine David encountered so much opposition. Nothing, it seemed, was as it should be. Prior to docu-menta X, the Frenchwoman preferred talking about literature and film to dis-cussing art. Her confident manner was inter-preted as arrogance, and the fact that she did not have a team of curators around her, but worked with assistants, confirmed critics and sceptics in their belief that the next documenta would be a failure. Even after the exhibition was in place and was popular amongst visitors, critics stuck to their view that documenta X was theory-laden and non-sensual. Some criticisms even had a personal, defamatory note. What had Catherine David done? After Jan Hoet’s exhibition of 1992, which had seemed like a big festival, she had moved in a new direction and turned away from the market. She wanted to show strategies artists had developed to re-flect social processes and to show the roots of these strate-gies. Her concept was called “retroperspective”. Like the driver of a car, she wanted to look forward yet at the same time look in the rear-view mirror to see where she was coming from. Thus, she presented artists such as Hans Haacke and Michelangelo Pistoletto, whose works embodied artistic perspectives from the 1960s. And Gerhard Richter was not celebrated for presenting a new painting, but for spreading out his archive “Atlas”, whose photos, collages, drawings and studies were the pool from which he drew. Numerous works shown at the documenta dealt with the consequences of urbanisation and with urban conglo-mera-tions on the periphery of cities. Thus, it suited Catherine David that she could incorporate the south wing of the main railway station at the edge of the inner city and thus develop a route from the railway station via Treppenstrasse to Karlsaue Park. The exhibition director and her team engaged with the City of Kassel and its history with great intensity. Several essays in the catalogue attest to this. Even in the first documenta in 1955, film presentations were included in the exhibition. But Catherine David was the first director to put the film programme on an equal footing with the exhibition programme. The Bali cinema became the second pillar in the Kulturbahnhof. While Jan Hoet rejoiced about the documenta-Halle in 1992, his successor did not consider the hall suitable for exhibits. Still, she gave it an excellent use. Every evening at 7 pm large numbers of people assembled in the documenta-Halle to listen to talks by artists and curators, philosophers and politicians, and poets and scientists. The intellectual hori-zon of the exhibition became apparent in lectures and discus-sions at the “100 Days – 100 Guests” event series in ever-changing constellations.
Translation: Burke Barrett