The general public seems more excited than ever about contemporary art; curated mass-events and the masses that attend them speak to art’s persistent draw. But who is this public that, this summer, again went to Venice, Kassel, Münster (and now Athens, too) to see this collective production of some 400 artists spread across more than 150 sites? And to what end? To prove that, yes, art is for everyone? That it is capable of broadly addressing deep social/political problems while offering a pleasant break from them? As self-expression now happens most directly (and internationally) online – and when art world protocol has, anyway, for decades supplanted local cultural norms – one might wonder what now drives interest in traveling to share space with contemporary art.
Age could be one factor. In their respective reviews of Skulptur Projekte Münster, art historian Eva Ehninger and artists Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho question the future (and present) value of this decennial survey of public art, pointing out that ideas of what constitute art in public space, like the 65+ crowds it attracts, are also maturing in the digital age.
When it comes to engaging the commons anew, Anne Imhof stands out. Here, scholar of the neo-avant garde Judith Rodenbeck analyzes her 5-hour work for the German Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennial, reflecting on its specific quality of physical co-presence. Contrasting Imhof’s sustained immediacy is, in the main show, a sense of “stuck time,” Chinese curator Venus Lau argues, critiquing “Viva Arte Viva” for its proposal of the pre- or non-modern as a commonly held resource.
Art historian Sabeth Buchmann and Viennese curator Ilse Lafer, meanwhile, argue that despite all naysayers, this attempt to transgress ingrained thinking both of territory (center to fringes) and artistic production is still the most valid task of Documenta 14. And indeed, Tom McDonough, in his take, finds Naeem Mohaiemen’s “Two Meetings and a Funeral” to be the perfect example of how the globalized art world can engage with the different political areas and planes it encompasses.