From the Archives
Today we honor the work of our friend and contributor Leigh Markopoulos, who died tragically on Friday after a car accident in Los Angeles. Leigh worked at Serpentine Gallery, Hayward Gallery, and the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts; eventually becoming the Chair of the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts, where she shaped more than a decade of cohorts of MA students in the first program of its kind on the West Coast. Leigh will be remembered by colleagues around the world as whip-smart, wonderfully direct, and incredibly generous with her time and knowledge. There are any number of reasons to revisit this review, which she wrote in 2012, but foremost because it summarizes Leigh’s contributions to the field: a careful consideration of art and exhibitions, an honest wrestling with themes both broad and narrow, “a restorative encounter with art—and life.”
It is hard to do justice to this summer’s triumvirate of European mega-exhibitions—Documenta 13, Manifesta 9, and the 7th Berlin Biennale—within the confines of a single article. It is hard to cover the multiplicity of venues—from museums and galleries to train stations, defunct mining complexes, park pavilions, movie theaters, department stores, and hotel ballrooms—by foot, let alone by pen. It’s harder to convincingly illuminate a tenth of the hundreds of works collectively on display without losing even the most dedicated reader. But the hardest is to analyze the themes at play without resorting to generalizations. What follows here, then, is a sprint through some of the artistic and curatorial highlights and low points, in search of commonalities, contradictions, and the ultimate conclusions to be drawn from three very different iterations of more or less the same idea: wresting art from the thrall of the market and restoring it to a conscientious existence.
It’s perhaps useful to preface these observations with a reminder about the forces of capitalism at play in the organization and staging of these exhibition events. All three are recognized art magnets. Documenta, the grande dame, is expected to attract audiences upwards of 750,000 this year, at the same time it will net somewhere in the region of 100 million euros for Kassel’s denizens. Established in 1955 as an enlightened endeavor to return art to the ruins of the heavily bombed city, the quinquennial has been heavily subsidized by the city government since the late ’70s—giving the curatorial team an extremely healthy budget with which to work—and is increasingly beloved by its inhabitants. Documenta occupies the 18th-century building of the Fridericianum Museum, as well as numerous other locations, and its artistic directors are free to designate additional sites. This year’s edition occupies the most square footage and number of venues to date. Traces of previous iterations live on in the form of commissioned works—such as Joseph Beuys’s ongoing 7,000 Oaks project— that gradually ameliorate the brutality of Kassel’s grim postwar architecture and enmesh the exhibition ever further in the fabric of the city.