DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

d5 1972

documenta 5 in 1972 was regarded as the most important caesura in the history of the documenta thus far, as from now on the exhibition was placed under the aegis of an artistic director. As a response to the increasing complications arising from the internal organizational limits, as had been all too evident at documenta 4, Harald Szeemann, who had been head of Kunsthalle Berne until 1969 and also worked as a freelance curator, was appointed "General Secretary" with sole responsibility. At the same time, the principle of previous documenta-exhibitions – namely of selecting artworks according to their potential individual quality or novelty was abandoned. In its place, an overall thematic frame was created, within which the individual works were allocated more the role of representing it. Szeemann entitled his d5 “Questioning reality – pictorial worlds today “. He set out to systematically trace the relationship of visual forms of expression and reality. The exhibition offered to guide viewers in their ways of seeing in order to provide a better understanding of contemporary pictorial worlds. In a world that was increasingly dependent on the agency of the (mass) media for its representation, the reproduction of actual events could hardly be distinguished from reality as a staged event. The exhibition thus focused on the relationship between image and reality.

The concept's promise of encyclopedic reach was not comprehensively redeemed, but d5 stood out for an enormous range of works: Alongside a great number of artistic positions and trends, viewers were confronted with highly differing parallel domains of visual production, such as kitsch, advertising, political iconography, religious-ethnological images, science fiction or the "artwork of the insane". A major presentation of paintings and sculptures of European and American photorealism served to document how a new reference to reality had invaded art--and was a sensational success at documenta 5. Yet other forms of referencing reality were also accommodated by Szeemann's display. For example, performance and action art were lent great space, pinpointing the scope for art to act in an immediately tangible space - and Joseph Beuys' contribution to d5, his establishment of an office for his "Organization for direct democracy through plebiscite“ in Museum Fridericianum, where he debated with visitors for the full 100 days, highlighted art's claim to also take a hold on public life beyond any aesthetic categories.

Szeemann summarized the current trend of the early 1970s towards introverted, hermetic artistic statements with his heading "Individual Mythologies", and proceeded to present large works, often installations, designed to illustrate the often idiosyncratic intellectual cosmos of the individual artists. Thus, the young Belgian artist Panamarenko was showcased, with his monumental airship "Aeromodeller“ (1969-1971) –filling an entire room to demonstrate his obsession with the dream of flying.

Like no other documenta before it, given its comprehensive concept and the broad notion of art deployed, the d5 divided the general public and the experts into two camps: critics and enthusiastic champions.


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