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article imageDocumenta's "Third World" Art Concept Fails To Enthrall

By Joachim F. Tornau     Jun 25, 2002 in Lifestyle
KASSEL (dpa) - Germany's documenta has traditionally seen itself as a "world exhibition" of contemporary art. But until now the art on display once every five years was mainly European and North American.
Artists from Africa, Asia or Latin America were hardly represented and only five years ago the then director of the documenta, Catherine David, swept aside such criticism. She said organizers of the art show were not a surrogate United Nations and could not be expected to accommodate every country.
The upcoming documenta 2002 show, which opens to visitors in the central German city of Kassel on June 8 and runs until September 15, is designed to change all that. For the first time in its 50-year history the documenta has a non-European director - Okwui Enwezor who was born in Nigeria and grew up in the U.S.
The list of artists taking part this year is more exciting than ever before - more than 40 of the 118 invited artists come from either an African, Asian or Latin American country. "Art is not at home in just one part of the world," said the documenta director.
And not only that: Enwezor wants what he sees as the neglected part of the world to have a key part in the documenta. Three of the four discussion platforms, which involved scientists and human rights experts discussing the context of art in society, took place in so- called "Third World" countries - In the Indian city of New Delhi, Lagos (Nigeria) and the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
Despite the attempts by the documenta to raise its international profile, the response in Germany, at least, has been cordial but with a degree of scepticism. The feeling is that it high time to break with the egocentric European tradition but it remained to be seen whether this was a durable trend.
The India Today newspaper spoke of a "noble attempt" to overcome the dominating western view in art while another Indian paper, The Pioneer, went on the offensive, asking why only 6 of the 40 films shown during the New Delhi platform were from Asia.
The Nigerian media has other concerns. "Enzewor gives a boost to African art", the newspaper This Day heralded last year. In March, when the much-vaunted documenta director came to Lagos for a symposium on the problems of African cities, local artists and gallery owners did not bother to come. "It was a classic case of a prophet who counts for nothing in his own country," observed the Post Express soberly.
For art German historian Gerhard Haupt the lack of interest is not surprising. "The platforms seemed voyeuristic to me - the idea was to decamp to a region but it ended up with an exclusive circle of people sitting in a conference hall," said Haupt who is working together with Argentinian artist Pat Binder on the Internet information system "Universes in Universe"
Among artists in non-western regions of the world there is a growing resistance to the "discovery attitude" of the exhibition makers who suddenly take an interest in the work of ethnic artists. "These days they should be doing that as a matter of course," said Haupt.
Berlin gallery owner Peter Herrmann, who specializes in African art, had even harsher werds to say: "No one in Africa is the slightest bit interested in the documenta."
Herrmann regards the platform events as a waste of time and one artist he knows actually withdrew recently permission for a picture to be used in a book after he heard that the publication was going to mention the documenta as well. "This man just didn't want anything to do with the documenta," said Herrmann.
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