Documenta14 & Postmodernism

IMG_8514Elisabeth Wild, Fantasias, 2016–17, collages, installation view, Neue Galerie, Kassel, documenta 14, pic. Dia Mexi, 2018

Okwui Enwezor, the artistic director of Documenta11, said that he sees the Documenta’s exhibition as more a diagnosis than a prognosis of the art in the future (Bolen, 2002). If Documenta1 crystallized and consolidated the modernism in Germany (Wallace, 1987), the Documenta14 did the same for postmodernism in the global art market. The diagnosis that Documenta14 provides is what the postmodernism theory already incorporates, where scholars are engaging to make modernism less Eurocentric by including the art production outside Western Europe and the United States (minorities) and engaging with postcolonial theory (Woods, 1999:44).

Documenta14 event as an identity had all the characteristics of postmodernism era in art as Ihab Hassan (one of the earliest commentators on postmodernism) has described its characteristics in comparison to modernism ‘Modernism /Postmodernism: Form/Antiform, Design/Chance, Art Objects, Finished Work/Process, Performance, Creation, Totalization/Decreation, Deconstruction, Genre / Text, Interpretation/Against Interpretation Determinacy/Indeterminacy, Transcendence/Immanence’ (Woods, 1999: 59).

Hassan has designated the tendencies of postmodernism in two concepts, indeterminacy, and immanence, which both cases are manifested in the workings of language (Woods, 1999: 59). It appeared that Adam Szymczyk wanted to show precisely the postmodernism era with all the characteristics of indeterminacy and immanence and workings with language. In his first interviews, he described the title Learning from Athens as working title and also he gave the hint of his inspiration, which was the title of the book Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi (Szymczyk, 2015b), the representative of postmodernism in architecture. The project had the method of synthesis rather than analysis, freestyle, playful full of doubt, complexity, and incoherence. All the characteristics that Levin had described for the postmodernism era such as the experimental process of the exhibition (1988), which in Documenta14’s case was denoted by the working title.

Documenta14 reference to political and cultural issues in deracialised and denationalized discourse was another characteristic of the modernistic era described by of Jahan Ramazani (Mao and Wlakowits, 2008:739).

On the other hand, since Documenta14’s show as a whole was contained in the definition and the rhetoric of the postmodernism era then this fact can justify the criticism of many reviewers who argued that it created a political vacui (Tzirtzilakis, 2017; Falkenshausen, 2017). The latter came following the argument that postmodernism is nothing but another stage in the West’s crisis of consciousness (Quasyon, 2008) ultimately apolitical and does not feed into larger projects of emancipation (Quasyon, 2008).

All the previous Documentas were based exclusively upon its summarizing of contemporary developments. On the other hand, the initial Documenta in 1955 performed a unique historical role. Unlike the exhibitions that followed the first Documenta attempted a systematic recuperation and accounting (but not necessarily a thorough one) of the history of modern art from 1905 to the 1950s.

Documenta14 as a show was an amalgamation of postmodernism with all the characteristics of the art in the era of postmodernism and postcolonialism of the art and the inclusion of the otherness.

An extract from “Documenta14: Learning From Athens: How to Unlearn What to Expect From A Contemporary Art Exhibition” by Dia Mexi’s MA thesis, 2018.  Copyright:  Dia Mexi,  2018



Reference List

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Quasyon, A. (2008) ‘Postcolonialism and Postmodernism’ [ebook]. In: Schwarz, H. and Ray, S. eds. A companion to Postcolonial studies. New Jersey: Wiley:p.87-111. Available from: [Accessed 10 November 2017].

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