Critics Weigh In on Documenta 12 and Art Basel; Ferran Adrià's Role in Documenta 12


The first reviews of Documenta 12 are trickling in. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Michael Hierholzer picks his most memorable moments: Harun Farocki's Deep Play, a twelve-screen analysis of the final match between France and Italy at the last World Cup soccer championship; Trisha Brown's Floor of the Forest, where dancers move through a weblike fabric net, suspended above the floor; Lukas Duwenhögger's monument to teapots; and James Coleman's film of Harvey Keitel monologuing.

“The foreign was never so manifold, so multifaceted, and so near in any Documenta,” writes Hierholzer. “The world as guest with friends of art.” The theme of organic growth and blooming—whether in Sakarin Krue-On's rice field in Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe or the greenhouselike pavilion in Aue Park—is not only an homage to Beuys's past action to plant seven thousand oaks in Kassel but also an attempt to honor a new generation's search for an ecological connection with nature.

While appreciating the strong presence of late artists, Hierholzer notes the absence of stars. “One misses the really big names, which would nevertheless offer a bit of footing in this jungle of thoughts and concepts, among the puzzling pictures and installations, the video projections that could fill up an evening in themselves, and the loaded objects, the photo series, and documentations of political and social dramas from mostly remote areas of the world. And if a sufficiently proved artist appears, then it is hidden, almost as an afterthought, coincidentally thrown together like a dice with other, less well-known names.”

Der Standard's Markus Mittringer underscores the exhibition's pedagogical aims. “For Buergel, everything is considered as contemporary, as current. What is present with us now is considered a point of reference: in everyday life, in museums, in the media, the imperial Mogul album from the second half of the seventeenth century, the ‘Target Paintings’ of Poul Gernes, made between 1966 and 1969, Anatoly Osmolovsky's abstract armored vehicles in polished bronze. And before Sanja Ivekovic's poppy field on the Friedrichsplatz comes to bloom, one is already informed that the poppy was mythologized in antiquity as a flower of death and then clarified in the Romantic period.”

Die Frankfurter Rundschau's Elke Buhr takes four artworks as a leitmotif for the show, instead of Buergel and Noack's three curatorial questions (Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? What is to be done?). Buhr choses Peter Friedl's stuffed giraffe from a Palestinian zoo, Ai Weiwei's 1,001 Chinese wandering around Kassel, Krue-On's rice field, and Allan Sekula's photographs of migrants, industrial workers, and container ships. “These four works show Buergel and Noack's intentions with Documenta 12,” writes Buhr. “Art should spin its threads between cultures. One wants to offer new perspectives—not just marvel at what's foreign but also examine one's own culture, as if it were unknown.”

Reflecting on the Grand Tour 2007, Die Zeit's Hanno Rauterberg compares D12 with the Venice Biennale. “Both exhibitions are astonishingly similar to each other,” writes Rauterberg. “Both turn against the supremacy of the market, yearn for an art that intervenes and stirs things up and asks what still remains from the ‘project of modernity.’ There are even overlaps in the artist list. Nevertheless, the two exhibitions could hardly be more different. In an almost textbook manner, Venice and Kassel show what a political aesthetics can stage—and what it can target.”


The mystery of Ferran Adrià's role in Documenta 12 has finally been solved. As La Vanguardia reports, the star chef will participate from afar, by keeping a table for two open to exhibition visitors at his restaurant El Bulli on the Costa Brava, outside Barcelona, every night of the show. The lucky two will be chosen randomly by Buergel in Kassel and offered airfare, along with a meal at El Bulli. The award-winning restaurant, which is fully booked for the next year, will officially become an auxillary site of D12—known as “the G pavilion”—during the hundred-day event in Kassel. “Instead of us coming and cooking here (in Kassel), which was impossible,” Adrià told reporters, “we transferred Documenta to Cala Montjoi”—nearly a thousand miles away from Kassel. “Cooking cannot be 'musefied'—it is an artistic discipline that needs its own scene,” explained Adrià, who admits that some might be disappointed by his no-show in Kassel. “In the end, the visitor decides what is art and what is not.”

After hosting random Documenta 12 guests, Adrià may be looking forward to other honors. According to another report in La Vanguardia, Adrià has been nominated for the cultural prize Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes, awarded by the Principality of Asturias in northern Spain. Other nominees are directors Zhang Yimou, Wong Kar-wai, and Milos Forman, playwright Peter Brook, composer Pierre Boulez, and architects Fumihiko Maki, Arata Isozaki, and Tadao Ando.


Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung's Philipp Meier offers an assessment of Art Basel as “the shopping leg” of the Grand Tour 2007. “Discoveries are becoming increasingly rare,” writes Meier. “Commerce is king, and the blue chips of the market change hands here. The three-hundred-odd gallery stands have plenty of marketable and expensive art to offer—most of it tailor-made for private living spaces.” For Meier, the “experiments” have been relegated to the “Art Unlimited” section, brought together for the first time with bulkier works and the “Art Statements.”

Le Monde's Harry Bellet takes a look back at the stellar career of the outgoing Basel director Samuel Keller, “the man with sixty thousand friends.” Keller's appointment as head of the Foundation Beyeler was met with some desperate cries in the art market: “No one can replace Keller!” Indeed, not one but three people—Cay Sophie Rabinowitz (artistic direction), Annette Schönholzer (organization and finances), Marc Spiegler (strategy and development)—have been chosen to replace the forty-one-year-old Keller, who joined the Art Basel team in 1994 and became director in 2000. Replace is not fully correct, since Keller will remain on board as honorary president.

The indefatigable Keller—who took time out every day to introduce the new Art Basel team to gallerists and collectors—sees the social realm as a key, whether mixing one-on-one or among sixty thousand. “You have to see many exhibitions to understand how art changes, how the way of exhibiting evolves, how the public changes,” Keller told Le Monde. “It's also a way of communicating, promoting our fair. The majority of galleries, collectors, and museums are elsewhere in the world. And art is also based on personal relations.”

While flying around the world to meet artists, collectors, and curators, Keller takes a few weeks out every year to work as a volunteer nursing auxiliary in hospitals. “Cleaning bedsores, that gives you back a sense of reality,” said Keller. “And I will never forget the older woman who had never seen a museum and whom I brought there.”

Jennifer Allen