Do big, world-scale art exhibitions have any use today?

D14_Martha_Minujin_The_Parthenon_of_BooksBarry Schwabsky at The Nation:

My real problem with Documenta 14 isn’t its possible relation to neocolonialism, which may be significant but hard to assess. What bugged me was that every curatorial “move” seemed so damned familiar. The new style of global exhibition-making that began tentatively with David’s Documenta, in 1997, and asserted itself more forcefully with Enwezor’s, in 2002, has by now been repeated in innumerable biennials and triennials worldwide. It has hardened into a formula. The recipe goes something like this: Put the accent on the documentary side of art without entirely neglecting its imaginative or formal core (what Khalili refers to as “fiction”), while framing the curatorial project in terms of what the artist Liam Gillick—a veteran of Documenta X and many biennials—has described as “an ethical demand that exceeds what is being produced by artists and posits new models in advance of art being made today.” It is this perception that art is inadequate on its own that has given rise to the by-now-standard Documenta/biennial tactics of mixing art with folklore and anthropological research; of exhibiting musical and choreographic scores, architectural plans, literary manuscripts, and all sorts of archives and collectibles as if they were drawings, paintings, or sculptures. Sometimes the artist is called on as an intermediary: for instance in Kassel, where Igo Diarra and La Medina presented a compendium of memorabilia of the great Malian guitarist and singer Ali Farka Touré. But at other times this collecting and archiving can be done directly by the curators, as in another part of the Kassel edition, where various materials relating to the Brothers Grimm, the Nazi-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, and other aspects of local and national history were displayed without much explanation. These are all tactics for evoking an idea of art beyond what today’s artists can express through their works.

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