– Spring 2008

The Gentle Art of Breeding Monsters: Bjarne Melgaard and the Political

Bart De Baere

Some colleagues of mine were recently denounced as 'Antwerp formalists' by a theorist we - that is, myself and these so-called Antwerp formalists - all adore and respect. She could not accept our nuanced approach to documenta 12. She wanted the show to be torn apart, dismissed, brutally discarded. The vehemence of her stance expressed an ongoing commitment to the previous documenta, a project that opened up a new space for analysing art within a substantial - one could even say constitutional - relation to the political.

Is this confrontation the only way in which we are to imagine the relationship between documenta 11 and documenta 12? Do we really have to surrender the conceptual gains made by documenta 11 in order to truly engage with documenta 12? Documenta 11's curator Okwui Enwezor built his argument through the 'thematising' of politics by means of a multitude of political inroads in the preparative debates, in his curatorial approach and in the exhibition proper. Indeed, the most recent documenta brushed all of this aside and played itself out on a much lighter ground, creating a buzz around three contemporary intellectual topics (the discursive results of which were almost invisible in the actual exhibition), and assembling an exhibition that could be called 'extended neoclassical' - extended since it included socially and politically engaged works, which art fairs also do these days.1 If there were any curatorial politics involved here, they were not-so-expertly hidden under the veil of presenting art-as-such, blotting out the contours of the various artists' biographies.2 Does this mean, however, that the core of Enwezor's documenta 11 project should be considered in absentia

  1. The themes, or leitmotifs, were 'Is modernity our antiquity?', 'What is bare life?' and 'What is to be done?'. The formulations of the themes changed slightly throughout the period of preparation of the exhibition. Their definition also remained open.

  2. For example, the biographies of a number of deceased artists who happened to be female and not completely canonised, were not made available even though their being female and not completely canonised seemed part of the reasons for their inclusion.

  3. Bjarne Melgaard, 'Everything American Is Evil, The Return to Constantinople', 20 November 1998- 17 January 1999, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki.

  4. Bjarne Melgaard, 'Not a Painting Show', 1 December 2005-21 January 2006, Stella Lohaus Gallery, Antwerp.