Sam Durant at Documenta is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

Photo by Lucy Hogg

American artist Sam Durant has a hit. His "Scaffold" was one of the most important pieces in Documenta, the world's most important art show, held twice a decade in Kassel, Germany. (See my review, my video and a slide-show of works.) At one end of the main axis of the Karlsaue park, a great work of Enlightenment landscape design, Durant has installed a concatenation of famous gallows. His architectural mash-up includes a remake of the scaffold where Chicago's Haymarket Martyrs were executed in 1887 (for having the wrong ideas at the wrong time) and of another where Saddam Hussein met his end in Iraq. By morphing together a number of simple geometric structures, Durant has created a piece that could almost be an elegant modernist folly. And of course "folly" seems the right word, for a structure whose function has been rejected by the entire civilized world, aside from the United States. Looking at Durant's assemblage, you realize that a gallows must be the simplest building type there could be; a hut looks deluxe by comparison. And you also realize that it probably doesn't appear in any architectural textbooks. In Kassel, facing the grand Orangerie palace, Durant's bare-bones structure seems to bear witness to power gone wrong.

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