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Documenta 5: Questioning Reality-Pictorial Worlds Today > Additional Information

Documenta - Museum Fridericianum gGmbH

Documenta 5
- Additional Information -

Excerpt from Documenta, Kassel, Germany:

After the first steps toward fundamental structural change were taken within the context of documenta 4, Harald Szeemann was appointed as the first art director and sole curator of the exhibition in 1972. That marked the end of the Arnold Bode era. With his selection of “Questioning Reality—Pictorial Worlds Today” as the exhibition title, Szeemann gave documenta 5 an unprecedented programmatic focus. The original concept of a “100-Day Event” developed in 1970, which had replaced the idea of the “Museum of 100 Days” with an actionistic, performance-oriented program, was abandoned, perhaps in response to experience gained from earlier exhibitions, such as Happening and Fluxus (1970), which had been closed in response to massive popular protests. Yet it came as a surprise at first that Szeemann retreated with his exhibition from the “illusory freedom of the museum in the streets”, returned to the hallowed halls of art, and presented a predominantly intellectual concept in tabular form in lieu of the planned action-oriented event. His concept distinguished between “1. the reality of the visual representation, 2. the reality of the subject, and 3. the identity or nonidentity of visual representation and subject.” Bazon Brock provided the theoretical foundation in an eloquent “Audio-Visual Foreword” projected on twelve screens, accompanied by a ninety-minute lecture. In the Museum Fridericianum and the Neue (formerly Alte) Galerie, Szeemann and his team (Jean-Christophe Ammann and Bode from the working group, assisted by Brock, Ingolf Bauer, Johannes Cladders, Klaus Honnef, Eberhard Roters, Kasper König, and others as freelance consultants) designed an archipelago of diverse pictorial worlds that appealed to viewers through the juxtaposition of “high” and “low” to decide for themselves what is art and what is not.

In an approach that was more or less antithetical to that of the first documenta exhibitions devoted largely to abstract art, “reality”—however it may be constituted—now entered the picture. It was represented in painting by Photorealism (Robert Bechtle, Chuck Close, Richard Estes, and Franz Gertsch) and in sculpture by lifelike tableaux vivants and environments (John De Andrea, Duane Hanson, Edward Kienholz, and Paul Thek). Kienholzʼs Five Car Stud (1969–72), a nightmarish depiction of racist lynch-mob justice in the United States, represented an entirely different concept of reality from Thek’s expansive installation entitled Arc, Pyramid (1971), a spiritual cycle of life and death that had a formative influence on Szeemann’s concept of “individual mythologies.” These “individual mythologies” were juxtaposed with “parallel visual worlds”: worlds of piety, political propaganda, trivial realism (kitsch), advertising and product aesthetics, and the “art of the mentally ill.” Everyday trivia and personal obsessions coexisted as equals. These were complemented by the model for Marcel Duchamps’s Boîte-en-valise (1935–41) and a section featuring artists’ museums, including Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum (1972) and Marcel Broodthaersʼs Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section d’Art Moderne (1972).

Conceptual art and Happenings also contributed to shaping the image of documenta 5, and although the exhibition concept was not realized in its most radical form, the program featured a number of works that were activated through the medium of performance during the entire 100-day event: Joseph Beuys’s Büro für Direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum), works by Gilbert & George and Ben Vautier (who took up residence at documenta 5 as living sculptures), Vito Acconci’s performance space in the Friedericianum, and Anatol’s Arbeitszeit (Work Time, 1970), a workshop installed in the courtyard. James Lee Byars presented his Calling German Names performance, Jannis Kounellis created a tableau vivant featuring a violinist and a ballet dancer, and the Vienna Action Artists associated with Hermann Nitsch were also represented. Considerably more sober was the action carried out by Hans Haacke, who conducted a sociological survey on the profiles of visitors to documenta 5 in collaboration with a computer center.

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