Universes in Universe

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About this UiU dX Special

By Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt, 1997/2020

In the spirit of our portal "Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art" (see information) this special focuses on the presence of Africa, Asia and Latin America at documenta X. We certainly believe that art from these parts of the world should not be viewed separately or even as a special "peripheral phenomenon" of the international art scene. Classifying art according to the geographical origin of the artists is a questionable practice in any case. However, Catherine David sends the argument in this direction once again.

Already at the last documenta (1992) there was much discussion about the inclusion of "non-Western art". While some thought that the door to the world's most important event in contemporary art had now been opened for it, others felt that the selection was far too small.

It was to be expected that this issue would play an even greater role at documenta X in 1997. The controversies in the intercultural discourse at that time and David's notoriously great interest in the art of the "peripheries" (in her own words) raised high expectations in this respect. After all, she had proclaimed that the concept of dX was about offering a "comprehensive survey and interpretation of the state of contemporary culture."

The result is disappointing, nonetheless. Already in the preparatory phase there was strong criticism of David's statement that contemporary art in the "non-Western" cultures was mostly only a "side effect", and that the really relevant cultural expressions were mainly to be found in music, spoken and written language (literature and theatre) or film (see Statements and Comments). As a result, she included only a few artists from those parts of the world in her parcours, the exhibition part of the dX. And even in the "100 Days - 100 Guests" events, only a quarter of the guests came from the "non-Western world", although it was a declared goal "to reflect the multiplicity of contemporary cultures - including non-European cultures in particular - and to present them as fully, vividly and flexibly as possible."

We do share Catherine David's view that she is not the UN (as she angrily replied at the press conference) and that the documenta cannot be about an equal presence of the entire globe. Yet her concept in itself raises many questions. We are publishing some opinions on this, which are excerpts from our interviews.

The organizers devoted surprisingly little attention on their website to information about the participating artists. In response to a corresponding inquiry, we were told that the documenta X website was designed as one of the exhibition spaces and was "not an information kiosk". Not even a list of artists could be found there during the documenta X. For this reason, immediately after the opening in June 1997, we presented at least those artists and their works who were of particular interest to us in the focus of our portal at the time.

In 2020, we made available our documenta X special in a new version optimized for mobile devices. Before it only existed as a static website with the limited possibilities of the 1990s.

© 1997/2020, Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt. Publishers of Universes in Universe

See also:

Statements and Comments
Catherine David on "non-Western" art and its inclusion in documenta X, and some comments on this topic by art critics

Opinions on documenta X
Okwui Enwezor, Geeta Kapur, Tunga, Alfons Hug, Sabine Vogel

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