DOCUMENTA 12 EXPECTATIONS

What can we expect at Documenta 12 next year? To find out, Die Frankfurter Rundschau's Ralf Pasch checked in with Roger M. Buergel, D12's artistic director. In the interview, Buergel calls the media's expectations regarding the lineup of artists “a bit neurotic, to put it carefully.” To date, Buergel has initiated an international magazine project with the Viennese art publisher Georg Schöllhammer, and currently magazine editors and radio stations around the world are working on contributions addressing the themes “Modernity is our antiquity,” “Bare life,” and “Education.” The dialogue with the editors is part of the exhibition, with the first Documenta magazine due to appear next spring.

Beyond these details, Buergel agrees to give only an “abstract” description of the show. “An exhibition shall take place, which puts the local knowledge of different places—and one of the places is Kassel—in relation to each other,” Buergel told Pasch. “[This] is to show that there is no difference between the local and the global. In order to do this, one must find suitable places in Kassel that show transformational processes characteristic of our world, and make these places visible.” Buergel notes that he cannot perform this task alone, and begins outlining some of the clichés surrounding Kassel, such as the historical destruction of the city and the trauma of modernization. “When you move at the level of mentalities, then you have to speak with the people. But it is not about exhibiting people but rather about developing a possibility that people get into the process of the exhibition concept. That is something very subtle. It's a way of working that I tried out inside the framework of the exhibition series ‘Die Regierung’ (The Government) with the fall 2004 show ‘Com volem ser governats?’ (How do you want to be governed?) in Barcelona. There, I wanted to leave behind the museum as institution, to quasi-liquefy it, in order to find it again elsewhere.”

Buergel's desire to integrate the public through “a compositional task” may not be so easy. As Pasch points out, the residents of Kassel are renowned for their indifference to the exhibition that the city has hosted since 1955. “It seems to me that the court tradition is very rooted in Kassel,” Buergel said. “Something is thrown at the people, and they are supposed to accept it. That justifies a certain skepticism.” Buergel sees his task in expanding our current concept of the exhibition as “a room where some things are standing or hanging.” “The exhibition should extend into the social body, inside the social texture,” he told the newspaper. “I believe that one must in fact build a public. I don't believe that one can assume people will come of their own accord. It's not about bringing everyone together so that there are line-ups, and everyone finds everything super in the end. But I do believe that an exhibition like Documenta, which operates to a great extent with public money and is very representative, has a responsibility to bring the lesson offered by contemporary art to the people. That is a greater challenge than finalizing this silly artist list. But to work this way, so that people are really engaged—in the double sense of the term—is politically very important for me because it's a classical dilemma of democracy: People are indeed well informed, but they feel completely incapable of taking action.”

WHAT “SCHOOL” IS NEXT?

Will Helsinki become the new Leipzig? Noting the continuing success of art movements, Le Monde's Roxana Azimi takes a look at Helsinki's school of photography. “These labels are marketing coups that allow a generation of artists to impose itself on the market,” writes Azimi. “The latest label to date, the Helsinki school of photography, has been establishing its name at art fairs for the past three years.” The real inspiration behind Helsinki is the Becher circle: the German photographers Axel Hütte, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky, and Candida Höfer, who all studied with Bernd Becher in the 70s and 80s at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. “I started with an observation,” says Timothy Persons, who teaches photography at the University of Art and Design Helsinki and also heads Gallery TaiK. “German photography did not really have a third or fourth generation,” Persons told the paper. “In Finland, the third generation is mature enough not to copy its precedent.” For Azimi, the Helsinki school—whose stars include Jorma Puranen, Ilkka Halso, Elina Brotherus, Ola Kolehmainen, Nana Hänninen, Pernilla Zetterman, and Jyrki Parantainen—cannot be reduced to an academic institution or a common nationality. “The Helsinki school is more about a pedagogical approach which is based on debate and critique,” writes Azimi. “It refers to very different sensibilities,” from landscapes to phobias, all recast through a wide variety of techniques. Hänninen's photographs—with colors saturated in white—is a case in point. “In order to figure out the image, you have to let your eyes get used to the minimal use of color,” said Persons. “It's like what you experience in the dark, where you have to get used to the darkness before being able to find your way.”

SPEAKING OF LEIPZIG

Die Süddeutsche Zeitung's Holger Liebs considers the popularity of the New Leipzig School beyond the borders of Germany. Liebs argues that most foreigners ignore the finer points of paintings by the Leipzig stars, especially those of its stars Neo Rauch, Eberhard Havekost, Frank Nitsche, and Thomas Scheibitz. For Liebs, it's reductive to describe Germany's principal contemporary art exports as simply explorations of the post-historical decay of an industrial country like the DDR, or even as offering the bleak image of a country much like today's reunited Germany where “stalling reforms, loneliness, and doubt reign.” “[For the international art market], what's important are quick formulas—and that's the other side of Rauch's success—since the open financial speculation in art makes its calculations in currency units other than the artist,” writes Liebs. “And so the buyers of Rauch's paintings are happy when an important critic like Roberta Smith sees ‘social realism’ as a driving motive for Rauch, or when a celebrated curator like Robert Storr calls his paintings ”folksy and science-fiction-like“ or when the New York Times, as it did a few days ago, identifies Rauch's paintings as 'Pop art idiom with an East German accent.'” For Liebs, socialism, folksy, and Pop are inadequate formulas that reinforce a quainter myth of the Leipzig school. “It’s the story of a Saxony valley of the clueless, where people just kept on painting while the rest of the art world turned to photography and installation, following the last crash of the art market in 1990,” writes Liebs. “[It's a place] where one nurtures craft and tradition with perseverance, as one painted figuratively in the DDR—and where in the meantime more than a dozen artists produce sad, enigmatic landscape paintings."