Kassel, Germany, Hauptbahnhof outside of the Northern Wing
Photograph by Katy Hamer
On the dOCUMENTA (13) website, there is a section called “Glossary”. If clicked on, several participants (artists) names will appear and feature a short one-minute video sharing his or her definition of various words, movements, actions, and states of being ranging from Surrealism to Failure to Occupy. Just the existence of this link brings many contemporary art issues to our attention. Has the definition of “time” (also part of the Glossary) in direct reference to contemporary art, become so inaccessible that it needs to be expounded upon in a contemporary art context? Obviously according to curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev that answer is yes, otherwise it wouldn’t exist as an option on the website. The curator herself speaks on Precariousness. She defines the word as per her own personal experience with the term as heard in the early 1980’s and proceeds to offer meaning as it is used currently in a contemporary context. Each definition video is short and concise but also rather complex in the individual (yet collective) offering and attempt to define words that may or may not be directly associated with art. In a recent review of dOCUMENTA (13) art critic of New York Magazine, Jerry Saltz used the term Post Art to describe his experience and much of the work that is being exhibited in Documenta. In the article, titled “A Glimpse of Art’s Future at Documenta“, dated the 16th of June, 2012, the critic states

“Three quarters of the art at Documenta 13,… is innocuous or worse.” Then later, “But let’s forget the bad 75 percent and look at the rest of what’s here, because, once you get beyond the claptrap, Documenta 13 comes tantalizingly close to realizing one of its enticing goals: rethinking how we define art altogether, opening it up exponentially. Indeed, here and there, in glimpses, we get what I call Post Art. And it hums with promise.”

In rethinking how art is defined within contemporary terms, Post Art, might be a particular terminology that some gravitate towards. But in doing so, it seems to be the opposite of defining art. Post Art, used in this format, appears as if it negates what art is in general and everything that has come before and lead up to the very moment we are in right now.  While I usually agree with Jerry Saltz in his opinions on art, it is here, meeting on the grounds of Kassel for dOCUMENTA (13), where we differ. I didn’t necessarily see the future of art. Instead, I found a culmination of our very recent past, visually, physically and emotionally represented leading up to this very moment. During my three short, very full days at the exhibition, I marveled at many of the works on view scattered in the numerous locations in Kassel. I didn’t marvel because of the material execution, but rather the immediacy and relevancy of the artists’ works chosen, which very readily reflect the current state of contemporary art and in doing so also represent many cultures, countries and processes of thought. A steady thread of politics runs through most of the artwork and if anything is missing regarding content it is sexuality and evidence of gender dynamics, still a relevant part of our political state. The only artist that I came across who represents this topic very clearly is Zanele Muholi, female, black, lesbian, South African artist whose photographic portraits are on view in the Neue Galerie.
Kudzanai Chiurai, Untitled, 2012
Installation with olive wood, bronze, paint and other media
Hauptbahnhof, Southern Wing, dOCUMENTA (13)
Photograph by Katy Hamer
Also as a tab on the dOCUMENTA (13) website is a link titled Materials which was previously called Resources or Research. The tab now provides information on essays and writing from 2008 adding multiple layers on top of the already existing verbal accounts and arguments in text for much of the visual information that we are given the option to receive via the exhibition. A P A (Art Project Attendants), sprinkled throughout the exhibition are given the task of sharing and/or answering questions for the duration of the exhibition. Curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, covered as many bases as possible in order for dOCUMENTA (13) to run as smoothly as possible. As curator, she extends and accepts the task of being both organizer, artist/participant selector, representative, conceptual cheerleader, and task master. Her physical presence at the exhibition as well as her representation online is intellectual, informative, sometimes comical and therefore also a bit performative. She is able to make those around her giggle, a bit purposefully and a bit uncomfortably. As a curator, Christov-Bakargiev is a character and participant herself. Being able to add humor to many of her dialogues takes away from art pretentiousness yet also makes her agenda at times a bit hard to follow. However, her curatorial itinerary with dOCUMENTA (13) is quite present, although at times hard to clearly decipher. The unexpected humanity that she is willing to share (and take slack for) brings us again to the previous idea of Post Art. However, rather than seek to define what art is or isn’t, I believe that what Christov-Bakargiev has set out to accomplish is the diagnostic challenge that a large portion of the responsibility of the exhibition is given and handed over to the guests. By including, artists, poets, fiction writers, and scientists she designates a particular task rendering most who will visit the exhibition to be somewhat powerless in the arduous inexplicable task of defining art.  By enlisting these A P A (Art Project Attendants), the curator provides an available access to possibility, in what is or what isn’t correct in content assumption, or what is or isn’t art. Nothing seems necessarily to be true or even false. Rather most of the work in the exhibition reaches a level of equilibrium, tapping into a spiritual response instead of a cerebral one.
I am reminded of a conversation that I had not long ago with Whitehot Magazine Editor, Noah Becker. We spoke on the present state of art and what the future holds. Noah, suggested a realm and movement towards Post Conceptual art. In this mentality and approach, contemporary loses its association with a particular frame of time and instead lends itself solely as a movement of art that not unlike “modern” will soon be part of our past. From Noah Becker:
“What happens after contemporary art?” was the question I asked certain powerful figures in the art world – they responded: “Nothing will happen, it will be contemporary art forever, contemporary art is the last genre Noah.”  This bewildered me and kind of scared the hell out of me at the same time.”
Seth Price, Folklore U.S., 2012
Hauptbahnhof, Southern Wing, dOCUMENTA (13)
Photograph by Katy Hamer
Gustav Metzger, Installation view
Various drawings and paintings in glass cases
covered with tan, nondescript fabric
Documenta-Halle, dOCUMENTA (13)
Photograph by Katy Hamer

This being said, if Post Contemporary exists we may already be part of it, or as the art world members approached by Becker suggest, contemporary art may indeed last forever. Either way, it somehow feels more relevant to discuss much of the work at dOCUMENTA (13) as contemporary or rather Post Contemporary in lieu of Post Art.  On my third and final day at the exhibition, I visited many venues including documenta-Halle where I found the most promising artists represented to be the elusive Gustav Metzger, the affable Julie Mehretu, and German sculptor Thomas Bayrle whose mechanical sculptures made of car parts and motors are congenial while also being compelling objects that are extended beyond any realm of function. His works, such as Prega per noi, 2012 consists of a Motoguzzi motor and a sound installation. The motors that he uses have a somewhat familiar, regular movement that is comforting, however they almost take on a robotic stance, gesturing as if attempting to communicate with humanity, beautifully unaware of their own short-comings.  The work in Documenta-Halle is wide-ranging and while much of it would exist outside of the group dynamic, certain situational pairings, such as Metzger next to Mehretu, work while others become a bit visually overwhelming and could easily be overlooked or forgotten.

Julie Mehretu, Mogamma (A Painting in Four Parts), 2012
Installation view, documenta-Halle, dOCUMENTA (13)
Photograph by Katy Hamer
After visiting documenta-Halle, I once again ventured into Karlsaue Park, this time in search of a Ryan Gander work I was unable to find the previous day and later discovered is an actor, sitting at a restaurant alongside the Orangerie. With this in mind, I diligently searched many of the faces and tables of the restaurant in hopes of locating the work. Unsuccessful, I succumbed to inquiry with several members of the wait staff before venturing inside only to be told the individual was on a well-deserved break. Time being of the essence, I decided to retreat and sought out the project by Critical Art Ensemble, founded in 1987 in Tallahassee, Florida. The CAE recruited students from Pacific College of Northwest Art based in Portland, Oregon and offered helicopter rides (or rather a ten minute hover) for one day only. Accessible through a scratch-off lottery or the purchase of special VIP tickets, which the Guidebook lists as 150 Euro but I was told they were being sold for 300 Euro, by 4:30 in the afternoon, 44 VIP tickets had already been sold. The work attempts to translate a political issue often tackled by the Occupy Movement. Visually represented by a tall banner placing the 99% close to the ground, while the 1% equals the height the helicopter would fly, precisely 225 meters.  A particular novelty captured the attention of about 30 people who stood scratching away at their lotto tickets, a small group of four who were waiting for the next flight and others who just looked bored. The novelty wore off after about 15 minutes of waiting, and I wandered to my next destination disappointed but also glad to have not taken part in a work that appears to be a parody of itself. The elitist declaration and proposal to “view the world from the height of the 1%”is a presumptive delusion which beyond the gimmick of the helicopter ride itself, seemed to backfire in a self-combustive manner. If the purpose of the group was to allow those who are part of the 99% to arrive at a calculated height of the 1%, why sell tickets for 300 Euro? Especially considering the VIP tickets were most likely purchased by members of the 1% in one of the weakest, if mildly entertaining, moments of dOCUMENTA (13).
Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer, detail, 2012
Hauptbahnhof, Northern Wing, dOCUMENTA (13)
Photograph by Katy Hamer
The Hauptbahnhof, originally the main train station in Kassel, is a facility still in use but no longer the hub that it was. As part of dOCUMENTA (13) 31 artists are scattered throughout five buildings including William Kentridge, Seth Price, Lara Favaretto, Willy Dougherty, Haris Epaminonda in collaboration with Daniel Gustav Cramer. Also at the Hauptbahnhof are screenings by Francis Alÿs and others, which during the Press and Professional Previews were sold out (free tickets) within minutes.  The shear size of each edifice and rectangular layout is in a spatial dialogue with the Arsenale, a construct used in each edition of the Venice Biennale. Shuffling between buildings and large galleries, several of the stand-out artists are those who I’ve listed above.  The most ambitious project is by Javier Téllez, originally from Venezuela and currently dividing his time between New York and Berlin. Here he presents Artaud’s Cave, 2012, a film installation based on Antonin Artaud’s text The Conquest of Mexico (1934). The artist shot the film at the Fray Bernardino Alvarez Psychiatric Hospital in Mexico City and the work is installed in an elaborate, dense yet artificial grotto, which must be amass of cement/stone.
The final work that I viewed was by Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer. Epaminonda was featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this past year and is a young artist  (born 1980, Cyprus) who for dOCUMENTA (13) has collaborated with Berlin based artist Daniel Gustav Cramer. Their work occupies a former office building in the Northern Wing of the Hauptbahnhof. Collectively they use everyday materials such as found photographs, texts, objects and artifacts in a way to negate obvious culture and time-specific reference. The untitled installation is a meditative exploration in interior relationships.  Acting as a scientific diagram their work confuses and enlightens assuming a position of absent narrative. Both Epaminonda and Gustav Cramer allude to an idyllic existence in a place that is nondescript, sans-technology, and while appearing to be based in someone’s reality, likens itself more to fantasy. Not yet Post Contemporary, not necessarily Post Art, but rather, dOCUMENTA (13) is an inky fingerprint, identifiable as it is mysterious and uniquely universal in a broad yet specific dialogue that is all at once impeccably human.
dOCUMENTA (13) is on view daily from 10am-8pm. Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the exhibition is held in Kassel, Germany only once every five years. It will remain open to the public until September 16th, 2012. There will also be related exhibitions in Kabul, Afghanistan June 20th-July 19th, 2012, Alexandria-Kairo, Egypt July 1st-8th, 2012 and Banff, Canada from August 2nd-15th, 2012.
More soon.