Universes in Universe

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Statements and comments

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

At the press conference of documenta X opening in Kassel, Catherine David replied on the question of why not more artists from the "Third World" were represented: "... I have obviously wasted my time as well as yours. Please read my text. ... I do not wish to continue this discussion any further, as it appears to me to be quite absurd."

We have read related texts. Here some quotes:

Catherine David started out claiming a very big cultural, political, and - she especially points out - ethical responsibility. From a documenta X press release, early 1997:
"Her dX will revolve around a comprehensive survey and interpretation of the state of contemporary art. Reflection on what can and must be done with documenta X has made it evident that art today needs to be examined within its (in the widest sense) political context. This entails a far-reaching exploration of cultural practice. There is more to dX than the presentation of works of art; Catherine David calls it a manifestation culturelle. Essentially, it offers a variety of ways to apprehend the true state of the world."

Latin America is not the remotest Third World, but rather the edge of the West. ... Upon informing oneself, one will see that, like anywhere, there are interesting and important artists in Latin America. That is a question of attentiveness, intelligence, and curiosity.
C. David, interview by Maribel Königer (in German), Kunstforum 128/1994

I think that one must deal with the problems of our periphery, with the things that no one wants to see. ... There does exist what we call modernity. Everything that has to do with de-colonization can be found in this "modernity".
C. David, interview by Karen Rudolph (in German), nbk 3/1994

It's time to understand that there is nothing outside of modernity, no simple contrasts between Center and Periphery, Modern and Pre-Modern. ... we should imagine that there are many rooms in the house of modernity, and that modernity is a collection of many different processes of cultural construction.
From C. David: Undurchsichtige Räume (Opaque Rooms, in German), nbk 4/5 1995

In the beginning, says Catherine David, the documenta was a place of reconciliation with modernity. Now it has been relevated from this task. Because there is nothing beyond modernity and even the aesthetic creation has already surrendered to global trends. Folklore and exoticisms, she adds, are not of interest to her. What does interest her is the modernity of peripheral regions, for instance the cultural fusions - in particular those from the suburbs of the big metropolis. And if it could be proven that the cultures of the peripheries are not cultures of image, but instead, who knows, cultures of film, then the documenta would have to act accordingly.
Hans-Joachim Müller on the 1st press conference by C. David, in: Die Zeit, No. 42, 13 October 1995, p. 73

Catherine David speaks four languages (German not included), she has traveled the world, she knows particularly well the cultures of Africa and Latin America. However, she denies to exhibit art from every continent in Kassel, simply to satisfy a multicultural sense of justice. This would not be in accordance with the spiritual-historical context, and the competition, which each Western art exhibition is in a certain way, would become a colonial farce.
Petra Kipphoff about C. David, in: Die Zeit, No. 29, 12 July 1996, p. 41

(..)The radicalisation and increasingly rapid dissemination of Western modernity beyond the patterns of bourgeois and revolutionary internationalism (globalisation, transnational financial markets) are leading to a situation in which the conventional oppositions between modernity and its supposed "outsides" (local/global, centre/periphery etc.) no longer hold good.
C. David: Ici et ailleurs - Here and Elsewhere, Film festival for the Steirischer Herbst 1996

It has become fashionable in the art world to invite artists from Africa and Asia. That is for the most part an alibi-gesture, in the best case conformism, and just simply colonialism. I won't be taken in by such "exoticism".
C. David, interview by ART (in German), Nr. 4/97

The program "100 Days - 100 Guests" plays a major role for Catherine David, especially in incorporating the cultures of distant countries. She tried to make clear to the guests that for instance, in her eyes, the fine arts in Africa and Asia do not necessarily play the most interesting role. She wants to avoid a showing of - according to Western standards -"mediocre" art just to fullfil a quota or satisfy a wish for folklore.
Kunstforum, Vol. 137, June - August, 1997, p. 435

At the same time, the problem of universalism also arises with respect to non-Western cultural zones where the object of "contemporary art" is often no more than a very recent phenomenon, even an epiphenomenon, linked, in the best of cases, to an acceleration of the processes of acculturation and cultural syncretism in the new urban agglomerations, and in the worst, to the demand for rapid renewal of market products in the West. For reasons which have partially to do with interrupted or violently destroyed traditions, as well as the diversity of the cultural formations that have sprung from colonization and decolonization and the indirect and unequal access these formation have been given to the forms of Western modernity, it seems that in many cases the pertinence, excellence, and radicality of contemporary non-Western expressions finds its privileged avenues in music, oral and written language (literature, theatre), and cinema forms which have traditionally contributed to strategies of emancipation.
Introduction by Catherine David in the dX-Short Guide

(Translations: Universes in Universe)

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