ETHICS vs. AESTHETICS: a review of documenta, the exhibition of contemporary art

ETHICS vs. AESTHETICS: a review of documenta, the exhibition of contemporary art

documenta is one of the largest and brightest events in the art world. Every 5 years it takes place in the German city Kassel and "documents" all the changes that have happened in art during this period. That’s why it’s so significant and that’s why it’s so important to know what’s going on it in order to be aware of the patterns of development of modern culture.

documenta has a very long and rich history which started in 1955. The German professor and artist Arnold Bode decided to create an exhibition that’d remind German people about the avant-garde. Like, there were such trends as cubism, expressionism, futurism, and the Nazis called them all "degenerate art" unworthy of attention, and now it was time to remember who Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse and many others were. Over time, contemporary art began to be exhibited at documenta.

Each time the exhibition has a new curator. This anniversary year, curated by the Indonesian art group Ruangrupa, the focus is based on the issues of collectivity and self-organization, diluted with a wider range of leitmotifs. Art directors were always Europeans, and the only exception was the Japanese Okui Enwezor in 2002, but now we see that with comprehensive globalization, the established rules of documenta are also changing.

 Yaya Coulibaly "Doll Wall" (2022)

This time the concept also changed - from an individualistic Western approach it moved to decentralized collective creativity, which was called "lumbung". 14 art groups were invited to participate in organizing the exhibition and they had to invite other artists. By this the interaction was based on a constant dialogue, and decisions were made collectively.

The most important thing about documenta 2022 is that art here is no longer a product of a prosperous European society, only the opposite – it grows in the most inconvenient conditions - in repressive, autocratic regimes, unrecognized states and poverty. For example, there are artworks of artists from Palestine, Gaza, Africa, Asia.

Artists association Baan Norg from Thailand created a skate ramp. Artists make art accessible and open to interaction. Baan Norg consists of artists, researchers, professionals. This list of people lets create numerous interdisciplinary studies and develop social involvement in art, which no longer needs to hang behind glass in a conservative museum.

Baan Norg "Rituals of things" (2022)

In 2004 Nairobi-based art project Wajukuu set ambitious goals to make the Kenyan slums a place where children have opportunities to get education. Exactly the slums became the central motif in the installation "Killing Fear of the Unknown". Here you can see the traditional dwellings of the Maasai tribe and the aesthetics of poor African neighborhoods. In addition to art objects, Wajukuu also presented a documentary film.

Wajukuu "Killing Fear of the Unknown" (2022)

During the documenta, the entire Kassel is transformed into an open-air art object, where artworks can be seen on the banks of the river, on buildings and inside them, in parks and streets. For example, The Nest Collective, an art group from Kenya, built an installation out of old clothes in the middle of a wasteland, and Black Quantum Futurism created an interactive stage right on the river, two of its elements moving along with the flow of the river. All the objects are in perfect harmony with the historical buildings of Kassel and create a lively and dynamic canvas of city life.

The Nest Collective "Return To Sender" (2022)

Summing up, documenta is not just another exhibition, it’s a whole cultural and social cutoff, and not only European or American, but from now on a truly global one. Why is documenta important for the contemporary art world? It gives new directions to the future biennale and, most importantly, opens up new names. Artists whose names were not previously known to the global art community get an excellent opportunity to claim themselves.