Documenta bangs on the table. The main contemporary art event, which has been held every five years in the German city of Kassel since its foundation in 1955, this time dispenses with the stars, the spectacular works and the trends dictated by the market to highlight the work of groups from all over the world. the world who understand culture as a tool to overcome today’s social and political crises. The 15th edition of Documenta, presented yesterday to professionals before opening its doors to the public this Saturday, could be one of the bravest in its history, a frontal attack on the system that sustains contemporary art, on the fascination for records in auction houses, works that self-destruct at the moment of a hammer blow and bananas taped to the wall.
Behind this radical commitment is the group of Indonesian artists and curators Ruangrupa, founded in 2000, just a few months after the fall of the dictator Suharto, by a group of students with an interdisciplinary spirit and underground, which began to organize concerts and exhibitions in various parts of Jakarta. Its members have decided not to bring to Kassel the stars of contemporary art, but to their own peers: groups from all over the planet committed to their environment. In this way they underline the virtues of the assembly against the model, perhaps already outdated, of the artist as a romantic genius, solitary, almost always male. The curators established an initial list of 14 invited groups, which in turn were associated with other groups, until reaching a total of 1,500 artists involved in this edition, according to the organization.
Ruangrupa thus underlines a background movement in current art. In 2021, the four nominees for the Turner Prize, one of the most important in the sector, were collective. The previous year, the finalists for the same award decided to share their endowment equally. The Power 100 list, which brings together the hundred most important personalities in the art world, was headed in 2020 by different groups, led by Black Lives Matter and the Ruangrupa themselves, followed a short distance by MeToo, Forensic Architecture or Feral Atlas.
Ruangrupa hopes to open this edition to a neophyte visitor. “We aspire to create a space that is massively open to different degrees of participation, in which everyone from babies to people of all kinds are welcome,” said one of its members, Ade Darmawan, a supporter of “decentralizing” the art sector to keep it away. of their supposed capitals. Also to change their internal balances. His method is called lumbung, the name of the granaries in Indonesian villages, where surplus rice is stored and then distributed according to jointly defined criteria. In the context of the fair, that same idea will serve to share ideas and material resources in a series of Majelis (meetings or encounters, in Indonesian) in which a collective harvest, the documentation that will account for the interactions that take place in them, in the form of drawings, sketches, texts or infographics.
Tania Bruguera: “This is going to be a very important edition. The market has to change. A patron can be happy being part of a collective project, and not just owning something”
All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.
The translation of all these terms, collected in a peculiar glossary of neologisms in the hand program, is obvious as soon as you enter the Fridericianum, the great museum erected in 1779 and the current main headquarters of Documenta. After crossing its solemn colonnade, now covered in political graffiti by the Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi, the rooms of this neoclassical temple become places suitable for hosting circle meetings, full of wooden benches, stackable chairs and cushions on the floor. The first reproduces on a small scale the headquarters of Gudskul, the cultural center co-founded by Ruangrupa in Jakarta, which concentrates a library, an art gallery and a market where second-hand clothes and eighties cassettes abound. Talks, workshops, concerts and other activities will be held here until Documenta closes in September. In one corner there are board games invented for the occasion. Outside, a small bar serves coffee to visitors. On the upper floors, other similar groups appear, located between art and social action, such as The Black Archives, which recovers the lost memory of Dutch blacks, while the British Project Art Works collects their work with children in an emotional video with functional diversity.
At Documenta Halle, Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, exiled in the United States since 2021, is sitting on the floor with other artists from her collective INSTAR. The three rooms it occupies have as their common thread the rehabilitation of artists repressed by the regime since the 1950s, from Ezequiel Suárez to Hamlet Lavastida. Every 10 days, the composition of that space will change to welcome other names, generating a kind of dissident canon of the art of his country. “The big question of this Documenta is how to represent collective practices in the museum space. An exposure to use seemed too judgmental to us”, says Bruguera. “This is going to be a very important edition. Making art in a group is nothing new, but it is being revitalized by social struggles. What this Documenta does is take that to the next step. The market has to change. A patron can be happy being part of a collective project, and not just owning something”.
Bruguera’s neighbor is the Wajukuu Art Project, one of the two groups of artists from Nairobi who have been invited to this edition. “All of us present have the same philosophy. We do not make art to earn money but to improve the lives of our community”, says one of its promoters, Ngugi Waweru. Across the street, at the Natural History Museum, the INLAND agro-ecologist collective, one of the three Spaniards invited by Ruangrupa, projects a video shot in the Pyrenees together with the German Hito Steyerl, which parodies the latest drifts of contemporary art. through an assumption cheesecoin (or artisan cheese as a cryptocurrency). “Collective art comes and goes. In the seventies he was already applauded by Documenta itself. Now it has returned, but it is going to coexist with the rest of the art forms in a growing polarization”, she thinks. Next to her, the artist Fernando García-Dory, INLAND’s most outstanding member, believes that this will be “a transitional Documenta”. “More and more radical gestures are going to come,” he predicts in the museum garden, intervened by his group. Time will tell if it was true. electroshock or an anecdote that ended up buried by his utopianism.
Accusations of antisemitism
The organization of this edition of the largest exhibition of contemporary art, with the permission of the Venice Biennale, has been marred by accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against its curators, the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa. They began in January, when a Jewish association in Kassel blamed the commissioners for inviting “anti-Israeli activists” who were part of two groups of Palestinian artists. In recent weeks, a series of debates – organized, in part, to respond to this controversy – have been suspended at the request of the Ministry of Culture, which would have received a formal protest from the Central Council of the Jews of Germany, according to the press of the country. Ruangrupa has argued that the accusation “has no basis”.