It is hard to write about any exhibition from a distance, let alone one as ambitious, expansive and rooted in its immediate contexts as documenta 14. So, until I get to Athens in early June, Minus Plato will limit itself to reacting to reports from those who have been lucky enough to experience it firsthand. At the same time, when reading such reports, Minus Plato will ensure to highlight the role that the Classical is claimed to be playing in this exhibition that is more directly engaged with Modern and Contemporary Greece. So, with the visual aids of other people’s Instagram, I will try to write posts that engage in these debates at a distance. Let us start with the first prominent review of the exhibition to appear: Jason Farago’s article for The New York Times (you can read the full article here). Here is where Farago introduces Greek antiquity into his discussion of documenta 14.
The use and abuse of Classical antiquity, born in Greece and routed through Germany, therefore hums through Documenta 14. Campy hoplites and temple maidens appear in dramatic photographs from 1970 by Pierre Zucca, whose collaborations with the great artist and writer Pierre Klossowski mashed up sex and economics. Flatter are the Polish artist Piotr Uklanski’s reproduced stills from “Olympia,” Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious Nazi propaganda film. They hang alongside dire older paintings of Hitler by the American duo McDermott and McGough, each meant to memorialize a gay victim of the Holocaust but undone by their cheapness. (The legacy of the Holocaust may be even more present in Documenta’s Kassel half. Several artists are apparently working on projects related to the art collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, much of it believed to have been looted from Jewish families.) A much more thoughtful analyst of Classicism is Daniel García Andújar, of Spain, who has filled an EMST gallery with 3-D-printed statues of the “Farnese Hercules,” the “Boxer at Rest” and more deformed riffs on Greek art, plus banks of images that place Greek art within a dizzying network of nationalist imagery and racial classification.
On first reading this I was struck by Farago’s description of Andújar as a ‘more thoughtful analyst of Classicism’ than the artists he references as engaged with the legacies of German Classicism (Zucca, Uklanski and McDermott and McGough). This distinction was clearly based on Farago’s experience of this artist’s dramatic works on display at the EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art which from what I can tell from the photograph in the article and from people’s photos on Instagram (which I have hijacked to accompany this post) offers a very direct engagement with Classicism via the forms of Classical sculpture. Yet to distance Andújar from the other artists who engage more directly with the idea of the abuse of Classicism by Nazi Germany, fails to place his work in a broader context of his contribution to documenta 14 or his practice as a whole. While I have not written on Andújar’s work on Minus Plato, you can get a glimpse as to his practice from this review I wrote of his exhibition in Madrid for Art News in the June 2015 issue.
More to to the point, here is Paul B. Preciado’s description of Andújar’s other project for documenta 14, skillfully placed within the context of his work’s key themes:
In a book project for documenta 14, for example, he sifted through information related to the reign of the Greek junta (1967–74) to create an image-text glossary of fascist grammar called LTI—Lingua Tertii Imperii (2016). Here and elsewhere, García Andújar’s goal is to reveal the dominant operating system, expose its flaws, hack it, use it critically, and open up spaces of resistance to the standardizing of language through which the world is created. To democratize democracy is to crack the code.
Knowing this about Andújar makes it much easier to accept Farago’s description of his work as offering a ‘thoughtful analysis of Classicism’. At the same time, by separating Andújar’s project from fascist abuse of the Classical (such abuse was not only inflicted by Nazi Germany!), Farago severely limits the scope of his critical and interventionist project. One lesson already learned from the Athens of documenta 14, which is clear from this exchange, is that the roots carefully planted by the curators and artists ahead of the exhibition’s opening last weekend need to be grappled with as much as the objects they may encounter within the immediate space of the galleries. In this spirit, here is a text that accompanied Andújar’s presentation of his LTI—Lingua Tertii Imperii project from the documenta 14 website on September 17th last year. (You can click on the text to be taken to the the site where you can watch a video of the artist’s presentation in its entirety).
Democracy has become a matter of aesthetics. The stage of the public has become a kind of orchestrated video game or operetta with a few recited parts; this operetta is performed daily for a people overwhelmed by the consequences of the “crisis,” critically applauding a fake and pre-established, frivolous, affected, and ridiculous script in which the audience is immediately proscribed by the mass media and defused before its fellow citizens, should it dare boo from the stands.
A space for political ventriloquism.
Language is never innocent.
Architecture is never innocent.
Images are never innocent.
They are openly involved in a body-to-body fight with history.
These buildings were once a hospital.
They later became the headquarters of the Special Interrogation Section of the Greek Military Police (EAT/ESA).
Now they house the Eleftherios Venizelos Museum, the Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance, and the site of the documenta 14 Public Programs at Parko Eleftherias (Freedom Park).
Take out Diogenes’s lamp and stroll through the park in full daylight to search for an honest language.
With this text in mind, especially the phrases ‘Images are never innocent’ or ‘a body-to-body fight with history’, how can we not approach Andújar’s ‘3-D-printed statues of the “Farnese Hercules,” the “Boxer at Rest” and more deformed riffs on Greek art’ without thinking about the hacked operating system of Classicism itself made by fascist regimes, German or Greek, historical or contemporary? Furthermore, another lesson Andújar helps us learn from Athens is that today the Cynic’s light is needed more than ever to hack the dominant operating system, to cut through fake news, to uncover the shaky foundations of so-called democracies.