Museum Fridericianum, Neue Galerie, Orangerie, Karlsaue
With his exhibition, Rudi Fuchs, the Dutch artistic director of documenta 7, hoped to restore the “dignity” of contemporary art—not by emphasizing its sociopolitical responsibility, but by focusing on the aesthetic “autonomy” of art. Thus with documenta 7, Fuchs unleashed a kind of “dialectical countercurrent” to its predecessors, in which art was presented above all as a medium of social change, both within the system of art and in “real life.” Fuchs’s documenta had neither a title nor a theoretical curatorial concept. Instead, he presented his documenta with subtle yet provocative poetic metaphors as a “stately gliding regatta,” relying on such tried and true categories as “beauty” and “artistic individualism.” The re-embrace of “conservative values” in the best sense of the words was reflected in the relative weighting of the media presented at documenta 7: Fuchs selected primarily (large-scale) paintings and sculptures. Works of Conceptual and performance art were exhibited as well, although their presence was markedly reduced. Almost as if he wished to contradict the “media documenta,” Fuchs presented only one (!) video installation at his exhibition, namely PM Magazine/Acid Rock (1982), a work by the U.S. artist Dara Birnbaum. It was no mere coincidence that this reorientation of documenta toward “conservative values” took place in the early 1980s—in the very same year in which Helmut Kohl began his sixteen-year term of office as Germany’s CDU chancellor. The student movement of the 1960s and the humanist hopes associated with it were now permanently relegated to the past, and the “long march through the institutions” had long since taken the place of revolutionary uprisings and protests. The same applied to major areas of art. The museum suddenly regained a measure of importance—thanks not least of all to imposing new buildings such as the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach and the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. To an increasing extent, relatively conventional works took the place of the more openended projects of Fluxus, Conceptual, and performance art, and the decade witnessed the emergence of the first highly successful international art market, comprising a gallery system that also “lusted after” salable works of art.
Representational painting was a major focus of attention at documenta 7. Worthy of particular note in this context were the representatives of the Italian Transavantgarde and the opulent paintings of such artists as Enzo Cucchi, Franceso Clemente, and Sandro Chia, as well as the expressive, dilettantish pictures by Elvira Bach and Salomé of the German Neue Wilde (New Wild Ones) and their quasi-predecessors Georg Baselitz, A. R. Penck, and Anselm Kiefer. The event represented a breakthrough for the Neue Wilde, although the movement was virtually forgotten only a few years later. New at the time (and this is the real curatorial achievement of Rudi Fuchs) was the presentation of these representational paintings in a dialogue context—as in the case of Jonathan Borofsky’s sculpture Five Hammering Men (1982), which was hung between the graffiti canvases of Keith Haring and paintings by Salomé und Martin Disler. Fuchs presented these works in the company of classicist sculptures from museums in Kassel, emphasizing the principle that even the most recent art emerges from the traditions and conceptual context of art history.
Surely one of the highlights of documenta 7 was Marcel Broodthaers’s installation Schlacht von Waterloo (Battle of Waterloo, 1975) in the rotunda. In the midst of a replicated idyllic allotment-garden setting, the Belgian Conceptual artist presented set pieces from the Battle of Waterloo, which he then confronted with modern armaments, such as machine guns arranged in neat, orderly rows. Thus was Broodthaers’s reflection on all forms of historical reconstruction. “Past and present become fictions that influence each other reciprocally,” wrote Bazon Brock with reference to this installation in his “Besucherschule d7.” Hans Haacke then presented Öelgemälde, Hommage à Marcel Broodthaers (Oil Painting, Homage to Marcel Broodthaers,1982) in the Neue Galerie— a portrait of Ronald Reagan executed by the artist in oil and placed behind a barrier cord from which a red carpet led to a photo tapestry of an enlarged slide showing a scene from the anti-Reagan demonstration in Bonn.
Performances, including Opera Suite (1982) by Carlo Quartucci and Carla Tatò, were presented in the Staatstheater. Even though art was exhibited primarily in the enclosed rooms of hallowed “temples of culture” at this documenta—the Fridericianum was thoroughly renovated for the event—it is (as it was at documenta 6) above all the works exhibited outdoors that are most vividly remembered, as they remained in Kassel. These include Claes Oldenburg’s Spitzhacke (The Pickaxe, 1982), an oversize monument representing a pickax erected by the U.S. Pop artist on the bank of the Fulda River, and of course 7000 Eichen (7,000 Oaks, 1982–87), Joseph Beuys’s tree-planting action. Citizens of Kassel were invited to plant 7,000 trees throughout the city in this urban-greening project. A basalt stone was placed next to each tree. Since the stones had been stored in advance—to the dismay of the people of Kassel—on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, the progress of the action could be monitored as the mountain of stones grew smaller. The last tree was planted during documenta 8. Joseph Beuys, who died much too young in 1986, did not witness the event. The trees are still standing in Kassel today.
Studied art history at the University of Leiden, Leiden
Art critic for various Dutch newspapers
Director of Van Abbemuseums, Eindhoven
Artistic Director of documenta 7, Kassel
Artistic Director of Castello di Rivoli, Turin
Director of the Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag
Director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam
Professor of Art Presentation, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam
documenta 7, Kassel
Platzverführung, Stuttgart and regional venues
Views from Abroad: European Perspectives on American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Modern Dutch and Flemish Art, Palazzo Grassi, Venice
Awarded the Hessian Culture Prize for his work as Artistic Director of documenta 7