Art is becoming more loquacious


This seems to be a moment when art needs to take stock of itself, to reassess its position both historically—that is, in relation to the art of the past—and functionally, in the sense of reconsidering what distinguishes it from (and links it to) other cultural practices. After all, this is not some eccentric byway that Christov-
Bakargiev has followed blindly; it can’t be a coincidence that this year’s Manifesta and Paris Triennale are both as steeped in anthropology and art history as Documenta. Perhaps because Documenta is the largest—and most distended—of the three exhibitions, it is also the one that seems to have no decisive sense of what contemporary art can be. And yet there are artists re-examining the nature and function of art today; some of them are even included in Documenta. One is Kader Attia, whose installation includes sculptures he commissioned from African craftsmen: he asked them to copy photographs of hideously disfigured World War I veterans, with the result that the “grotesque” anatomical distortions we admire in tribal sculpture are reframed as nearly naturalistic attempts to render an almost unbearably poignant reality. And I should mention here too, among others, the videos of William Kentridge and Wael Shawky and a typically interrogative performance piece by Tino Sehgal.

more from Barry Schwabsky at The Nation here.