Re: Donald Kuspit on DocumentaX as Swastica!

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Posted by Jordan Crandall on July 31, 1997 at 16:01:53:

In Reply to: Donald Kuspit on DocumentaX as Swastica! posted by ArtNews on July 28, 1997 at 18:07:40:

Re: Kuspit review at

There are many sites and programs of the documenta. The exhibition
spaces in Kassel are only one part. Kuspit misses this completely; he
is too wedded to the days when exhibition spaces were the primary
sites. And correspondingly, to the days when critics could stroll
through them, write art reviews, and wield power. The dX is a symbol
for him of something much larger, which has undermined that power, and
so he attacks it, with all the vitriol of a critic being denied tenure.

By seeing only the exhibition spaces, and not taking into account at
least the other primary sites, including the book and the 100 days/100
guests program, Kuspit has written a review after having accessed only
about a third of the event.

Had he spent some time with the book (which is assuredly not a
catalogue), or even accessed some of the 100d/100g lectures that are
archived onsite and disseminated through various venues (or perhaps if
he even *attended* one), he might have recognized that the inclusion of
historical art is not based in "nostaglia," as he accuses (specifically,
"nostalgia for '68"), but a need to give the present temporal depth and
associative perspective. As Aldo van Eyck would say (pg. 532 of the
book), "This is not historic indulgence in a limited sense; not a
question of travelling back, but merely of being aware of what 'exists'
in the present - what has travelled into it: the projection of the past
into the future via the created present." Specifically, the dX aims to
create a political context for the interpretation of artistic activity
today through an informed viewing of artistic-political interventions of
the postwar past. This "retroperspective" is very consciously
structured to displace the western perspective, and to call attention to
technological structures of mediation -- the historically-specific
lenses through which images are seen. It establishes four emblematic
dates -- 1945, 1967, 1978, and 1989 -- that mark out the frames of this
study. We are to view this history in light of contemporary conditions
of globalization, to understand globalization through "temporal depth"
and the perspectives that accompany it, and, correspondingly, to situate
current artistic and cultural practices within its dynamics.

There are many venues for the creation of this contemporary context
other than the artist's installations; in the 100days/100guests program
alone, 100 speakers from architecture, urban planning, philosophy,
cultural criticism, economics, film, theater, comparative literature,
political science, journalism, anthropology, sociology, media theory,
psychology. These are presented live, broadcast, archived, and
disseminated on the internet. These invitees are on equal footing with
every artist invited. There is the Hybrid Workspace, a revolving forum
occupied by groups for various periods, whose works are disseminated
online; there are online projects and forums, a film program with seven
films produced and presented at dX and shown through other venues, a
series of television broadcasts, radio broacasts, a theater program, a
series of working papers in the form of a magazine, and, of course, the
book, an enormous resource of material and historical contextualization
in a montage technique that is very much a key to engaging the content
of dX. All of this is meant to take time; to unfold; to provide ongoing
context for discussion and study.

As globalism opens state barriers out into the larger conditions of
global trade, it also hopefully marks a bursting of the bubble of the
"art world," in which Kuspit has been happily couched. For everyone,
including the notoriously bunkered realm of institutional visual art,
the horizon has burst open, the stakes have been drastically raised, the
reformations by and through the transnationalization of the economy
cannot be ignored as part and parcel of cultural practice. And in order
to understand this world-reshaping - as *culture* -- the
retroperspective is a valuable technique, not a nostalgia for a bygone
era. It gives us tools, ways of informed seeing.

Kuspit comments that "Information by itself is not concept and
cognition. Lacking a larger psychosocial and historical
conceptualization and context…the information--'documents'--tend to fall
short intellectually and fall flat emotionally." This is precisely why
the curators have worked so tirelessly to create a historical context,
and why contemporary practices must be seen in the context of
globalization in order to have any life. So what is Kuspit saying?
First he denounces what he sees as an overemphasis on historical
perspective, and then he writes that "The information exhibited is even
inadequate as the index to society it claims to be, for since it is
given without any psychosocial and historical perspective it ends up
referencing itself." He complains that there is there too much
historical perspective, and then he complains that there is no
historical perspective.

After citing Bachelard, he then complains that "There are no absolute
images in the exhibition, that is, images that seem self-accomplishing
or ends in themselves". So, after arguing that there is too much
historical contextualization in the dX, then that the work doesn't have
enough of a historical context, he then complains that these works
should require context at all - that they are not "absolute images," or
"self-accomplishing" "ends in themselves."

After this nostalgic summation, Kuspit himself becomes unhinged. He
calls the curators "commissar-types" who are engaging in "leftist
fascism," and, surely through narrowed, squinty eyes, he then remarks
that the logo looks like a "hammer and sickle" or a "perverse swastika."
This makes it painfully aware that he doesn't even know how to read a


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