dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel, Germany, Art Exhibition (2 OF 3)
Originally published on my A Travel for Taste blog on August 28, 2012
Last week I left you on the steps of the Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, about to go into the biggest contemporary art exhibit in the western world, dOCUMENTA(13). As you can imagine, my expectations were rather high for this one.
While standing in line, a man behind me asked if he could borrow the pen he saw in my hand. He said he had to sign and date his ticket. Okay….I followed suit, thinking this was typical German overkill attention to detail.
However, when I got to the ticket-taker podium, the man in front of me was sent off to the side to sign and date his ticket before they would allow him in! Mine passed muster and I escaped with a smile and a small stamp! Interestingly, the stamp reflected the date, so why did I have to write the date, too? The first of many mysteries about this exhibit that remain unsolved.
It had been quite warm outside standing in line, but once I got into the exhibit hall, there was a wonderfully cool breeze and I enjoyed it fully. I was a little confused, though, because the spacious foyer of this place was entirely bare of artwork!
I had to thread my way through small groups of people milling around to find a room where there was anything to see. I found a couple of video presentations, but they were located down short, narrow corridors and around a corner to shield light. The thing was, the corners were so small that it was nearly impossible to get to the videos because of the people who were already there.
I saw a few other things here and there, including a giant black-and-white, photographic, panoramic mural in a round room that was kind of interesting. But so far I wasn’t very impressed.
I ended up in a room that had a wall filled with old-fashioned display cases. In the display cases were hundreds of items made from old artillery shell casings – everything from letter openers to ashtrays to toys to vases to pens and cigarette cases. It was fascinating looking at each unique piece obviously hand-worked out of the remnants of war.
Fortunately photographs were allowed in the exhibit as long as there was no flash. However, most of the lighting in the exhibit areas was so dim it was hard to get good shots. But here is a shot I managed of those shell casing pieces:
When I got closer, I found that the books were all about atrocities of war or some psychological or societal result of war through the ages and the wooden busts were hideously deformed depictions of people who were mutilated during the world wars and other conflicts. Creepy and depressing.
I don’t remember what else was on the first floor, but I remember it was terribly disturbing to me. It seemed that the artists were intent on showing everyone what was horribly wrong with our world. I hoped it would get better.
So, I fled that floor and made my way upstairs to the second level. The first area I came to was a brightly lit room with some scientific-looking equipment in it and a chalkboard full of mathematical equations on one wall. It turns out that the equipment was set up there because a Viennese physicist was set to duplicate the famous “double-slitexperiment” in quantum physics first done by Thomas Young in 1803. I was about a week early and the experiment wasn’t in progress, but it was really cool to see the equipment set up for it! I wish I could have seen the experiment; I’ve been reading about quantum physics lately. My faith in the exhibition was somewhat restored.
On close inspection you could see that each set of two apples was different from the next and each set was photo-realistic. Ok, this is good, I thought. Then came the down factor when I found out that the artist was a priest who drew these pictures while he was forced to tend the garden at Dachau concentration camp! Sheesh. However, he did develop a few hybrid apple varieties, one of which is still cultivated widely today.
The display cases in the middle of the room held a collection of index cards with notes on them for a speech. Not sure what all that was about.
In the next room was a handmade embroidered tapestry made by an Italian artist while he was in Afghanistan. The whole thing was a map of the world, but I shot the USA:
In the next room was a weird combo of posters made from an artist’s drawings, doodlings, diary entries and such tacked on the wall:
Although I read about the artist and this concept in the guidebook, it didn’t really make much sense to me. The cardboard cartons were full of copies of these posters and the visitors were invited to take them. People were going through them like it was Black Friday at Walmart. Although they looked kinda cool in the museum, I knew I’d just bring them home and throw them away. I have enough journal entries of my own!
In the same room was also a collection of rubble and shrapnel from wars and battles all over the world. I did like the way they wrote on the glass of the display case (in English) as labels for the items, though, again, the subject matter was really depressing. There was even a piece of the World Trade Center debris from 9/11.
Further on I saw a display about this “artist’s concept” of trying to get a resolution passed to designate the Earth’s atmosphere as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For those of you who are unfamiliar with UNESCO sites, it means the same as a structure being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the US. This essentially means you aren’t allowed to destroy it or significantly change it in any way. So it would mean that we would not be allowed to destroy the Earth’s atmosphere and would have to stop global warming and so forth. Interesting concept.
There were some paintings in one room which were fun to look at because of the moiré effect. You could kind of hypnotize yourself if you wanted. They were abstract enough to not seem depressing, anyway. The guidebook states the artist is Aboriginal Australian and is depicting the sand, salt, and heat of his homeland. After that it mentions that the artist was motivated to depict his homeland before the white man came along and took it away from his tribe. Harshed my buzz!
Interestingly, I had read an article a few days before about low-level filters built into high-end digital cameras to prevent the moiré effect. I entertained myself watching two men with mobile phone cameras try to photograph this artwork and wonder why there was a moiré effect! You can get a little moire effect of your own if you scroll this webpage back and forth – the slight flashes between lines is the moire effect.
After visiting most of the artwork in this building, I was a little disappointed with the exhibit overall. It was all Nazis, war, poverty and destruction. Plus I was really getting tired. However, I went back to the ground floor and stood in the line for a part of the exhibit called “The Brain.” At least that’s what the sign said. I actually had to step out of the back door to get in the very long line. They allowed only a certain number of people in the room at a time due to environmental conditions. After 45 minutes or so, I was admitted to the room.
This room is described as where “…a number of artworks, objects and documents are brought together in lieu of a concept.” I have to say that it was probably my favorite area of the exhibit and most of it was not even contemporary art.
These are the so-called Bactrian Princess figurines from Central Asia and date from the late third and second millenia B.C. They were so delicate and beautiful!
There were other cool items in this room, but, unfortunately I found out the hard way that I wasn’t supposed to take any photos in that room! The attendant caught me raising the camera to photograph something and rushed over to stop me. She apparently didn’t see me photograph the Bactrian Princesses.
So, I’ll describe a couple of things that I thought were worthy of note. One, there was a vase and two bath towels from Hitler’s bathroom! How in the world two bath towels survived from his bunker is a fairly mundane story, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.
Another object, the one I was trying to photograph, was a metronome with a cutout of an eye from a photograph attached to the part that tick-tocks back and forth. It was called “Indestructible Object” and was created by Man Ray.
Next to the metronome was a book open to a page that contained a diagram of such a setup, but the one in the book was titled “Object to be Destroyed.” The text, written by Man Ray, stated, “Cut out the eye from the photograph of one who has been loved but is seen no more. Attach the eye to the pendulum of a metronome and regulate the weight to suit the tempo desired. Keep going to the limit of endurance. With a hammer well aimed, try to destroy the whole at a single blow.”
The original metronome piece was made in 1923 and later destroyed. I’ve read at least five different stories about how it got destroyed, but all of them indicate that his instructions were followed! Man Ray made more of them in later years, renaming them “Indestructible Object.”
Perhaps my favorite article in the whole “Brain” collection was an ordinary brick, like one for building houses. The brick had a broad yellow stripe painted down one narrow edge. It’s called a Czechoslovak Radio.
Here’s a good description – and a photo – I found on a website reflecting what the dOCUMENTA guidebook says about it:
When Czechoslovakia was invaded by Soviet army in 1968, people resisted to the repression of political reforms through creative means. After people were forbidden to listen to radio broadcasts, they started attaching antennas to bricks as a sign of protest.
Nothing more than painted bricks, these fake radios started to spread among the population pretending to listen to them, and although they were useless as a communication device, they were continuously confiscated by the Russian Army. It is still unclear if this was caused by the genuine thought these were hidden audio equipments or because they were seen as anarchic pieces of art.
I can just imagine my Czech friends all sitting around a painted brick “listening” to it! Fantastic!
After that chuckle, I left the main museum building, more than a little disappointed. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel and just going home. Besides, it had gotten quite warm and I was very tired from standing all day.
However, I was there, so I decided to duck around the corner and visit the Natural History Museum, which also housed some dOCUMENTA items. While I’m glad I did, you’ll have to wait til next week to see what I discovered there. I hope you have a great week and look forward to reading part 3 of dOCUMENTA in my next post.
Photo for No Apparent Reason: