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20 June 2007


On a bus between Documenta and Münster.

I've just spent two days at Documenta. It wasn't nearly enough. Unlike Venice and Basel, it wasn't really crowded, but there was so much to see and digest that two days seemed only enough for a rough overview.

Documenta prides itself on being firmly anti-art market, as well as having a deep
intellectual foundation. I found myself at a disadvantage by not buying the extensive catalog and ancillary magazines, which provided ample supporting essays and information. Other than the art, there just isn't that much information available in the galleries. In some cases that was okay. Either the art spoke for itself or there was some other pleasure to be found in the works. But other times, one just really needed help. The information on the wall tags was spare and merely factual in most cases. I was left wanting more.

I’ll give an example from work I know and love. Zoe Leonard’s set of three hundred-plus photos, documenting the demise of her Lower East Side neighborhood, which morphs into her tracking of piles of donated clothes to Africa, was offered at two sites. The first site presented the complete portfolio of work. The second site had her suite of forty photos culled from the larger set, which she has sumptuously printed using the dye transfer process. I can make up my own stories about this beautiful work. I especially love the dye transfer set. But if I didn’t know that there was a complete and engaging narrative explicit in the work, I would never know it without a guide or by buying the catalog. Call me lazy or cheap, but I think a curator owes me a bit more.

Also on display were two South African photographers whose work I admire: Guy Tillims and David Goldblatt. Their solid emotional message combined with satisfying formal footing made their work stand out to me against the large collection of ‘70s conceptual work that was everywhere at this Documenta.

Other notable photography was hard to find. One of the standout works to me was a sculpture by the Brazilian artist Iole de Freitas. Her work takes over architectural space like a virus. In this case, it even spilled through the walls to start again outside, and pierced the outer walls again to move inside. It looked like art had invaded the building and taken its basic form for nourishment, growing in any direction like kudzu. Fabulous. For me, it mirrored the work of Monica Sosnowska at the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennial. Both artists invade their space in dramatic, telling, and satisfying ways. They were two of the best things I saw in my whole trip.

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