The Daily Pic

06.06.12

A First Taste of Documenta

The Daily Pic: The world's greatest art show starts with a gulp

Documenta, the world's most important art show – it comes twice a decade – had its media launch today in Kassel, Germany. At the press conference, there were hints of something we weren't expecting: Its artistic director, the American-born Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, came off as rather an artist herself. That started with the subject of today's Daily Pic: A bottle of apple juice offered to the press free of charge, inscribed with her name as its creator and with an allegorical label by the American artist Jimmie Durham. It was good juice: naturally cloudy and not terribly sweet, but  substantial and with just enough tang – not a bad description of this 13th Documenta, as it is turning out so far.

The bigger surprise was that some observers left convinced that Christov-Bakargiev's press presentation was itself designed as a work of performance art. She started what she called her "lecture" with a fat sheaf of papers in front of her, from which she proceeded to read.

And read.

And read.

As time wore on, and the assembled journalists grew squirmy under her flood of dense prose, she started jumping passages, and pages, and then whole reams: "I'll just skip that,"  said Madame Director. And then, "That too." And then "Skip, skip, skip", as pages flew from the still-to-come pile to the already-read.  All that elision made her presentation even more fragmentary and impressionistic that it had started out, until it felt more like a series of metaphorical allusions than a fully reasoned argument. (In the question period, when a rude journalist doubted her intelligence, she admitted to enjoying "confusion".) In fact, Christov-Bakargiev's press conference felt rather like good art: Not too literal-minded but not wildly obscure either, and with a strong grounding in the world as it is. That is how a lot of the work in her show seems to be, judging from half a day's looking. Her curating had that same mix of qualities, preferring loose links between works to hammered-out argument.

A highlight from her project brings us back to that bottle. A German priest and activist, named Korbinian Aigner, bred apples while interned by the Nazis at Dachau, and drew them as well. He continued doing both after war's end, and Christov-Bakargiev has included 372 of his lovely apple drawings in her Documenta. She also used his own unique strain of Dachau-bred apple, the Korbinian, to make her fruit juice.

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