Harald Szeemann and Daniel Buren in Documenta 5

Following my notes on Museums By Artists, I was interested to hear more from Daniel Buren on Harald Szeemann and Documenta 5. Luckily, filmmaker Jef Cornelis recently issued an archive of footage from that exhibition, including interviews with the two men. I have transcribed their comments here, including Buren’s clear articulation of his thesis.

Harald Szeemann

DVD cover of Jef Cornelis’ film Documenta 5 (1972)

We planned this “documenta Urbana” which was, in a way, Mr. Bode’s dream. We also had the documenta seminar, which was Mr. Brock’s dream. But neither one can guarantee documenta’s status as an event, which is the only thing that will bring people to Kassel. And this town really needs visitors during the documenta.

After a certain period of reflection, there was only one possibility which would once again bring a quarter of a million visitors here: by making the most of the prestigious status art possesses in the world, but in order to say something different.

… documenta 5, for many people, it’s been a stabilising force. Various artists, who see themselves as subversive, see no alternative than to remain in the museum context, which is the only context giving meaning to their work.

Q: But it was still you who —

It would be ridiculous to deny it. And I think, from the start, I asked, I demanded that I have that power. I insisted that they replace the committee and give me total responsibility for this exhibition. Otherwise I couldn’t do it.

… It’s clear that a seminar would have been the purest form, and most suited to the situation in 1970. So no visitors. Naturally, we’ve tried in these two years to retain that thematic aspect, to break away from the notion of a modern art exhibition. But at the same time, we couldn’t just ignore the original idea, to make it an event, to draw attention, for the same ten per cent of the visitors, to the didactic aspect of the exhibition.

Daniel Buren

(I’m) displaying my work, the paintings, in this unusual place, in different sections, all throughout the articulation of the exhibition, between the two museums which constitute documenta.

Q: Only inside?

Only inside, yes. Because I think this exhibition, the way it’s divided into sections, moving from one section to another is like going from inside to outside, but within the overall whole that is the exhibition. From one section to another, you go from the inside to the outside.

Q: Have other artists agreed to use your work as a backdrop?

I should say that I wouldn’t have asked.

Q: But there weren’t any problems?

Not so far.

Q: Is it modesty or… Why did you choose such neutral colours?

The colors I chose are theoretical and technical at the same time. In order to bring this idea to fruition, the work had to have absolutely no visual importance, no real importance. So I had to choose something very neutral, very soft. The only way to achieve that restrained tonality was to choose white on white, which poses other problems.

Q: Do you think the public will be suspicious of that?

It doesn’t matter.

… The demonstration is parallel to the demonstration by the curator, Szeeman. The work sort of becomes part of the museum, in which we have come and hang our artworks. Or installations or performances, etc.

Q: So you’re saying Szeeman has himself created a big artwork?

Documenta is characteristic, in a way. As are almost all exhibitions. But it’s very visible here. Harald Szeeman is the artist who has created this enormous painting, which happens to be the exhibition itself. So the exhibition is an exhibition of an exhibition.

… To my surprise, all the artists here are prepared to be put in boxes.

Q: What boxes?

Each room is a box. And you have a label, a title, you’re classified. And we each install ourselves to fit the box.

… We still haven’t emerged from the 19th century. We’re still in the world of pictures. Art is still a series of pictures. Be they conceptual or hyperrralist. We each hang up our picture, which is sort of the meaning that I’m trying to convey, inasmuch as we’re hanging a picture on something. The picture is just there in its own right.

Q: And that’s a 19th century notion?

I think it’s 19th century, it’s also 20th century, which is nearing its end. Although we’ve all been pondering this problem for nearly a century, it still hasn’t been dealt with. It’s still all about pictures and metaphors. It’s interesting and questionable that metaphors exist here, in the idea of a museum exhibiting a museum.

Posted April 2013

Made under the ☀ in Austin, Texas.
WordPress hosting by WP Engine, thanks y’all!

© 2022 Spellerberg Associates LLC