Marta Minujín The Parthenon of Books, documenta 14, Friedrichsplatz, Kassel, 2017.
Photo : Roman März, courtesy of the artist & Henrique Faria, New York & Buenos Aires

Probing the Body Politic: Limits, Memory, and Anxiety in Art after Democracy Can no Longer be Assumed

Claudia Mesch
As democracy suddenly seems to be faltering in a number of places around the globe, the current political moment raises questions about whether art might serve as a means and mechanism through which ­democracy can be forcefully reasserted. The dual ­documenta exhibitions in Kassel and Athens this past summer — titled Learning from Athens — seemed to question the relationship between art and democracy, as well as that between Global North and Global South, which the exhibition ambitiously seemed to want to unite. When it debuted in 1955, documenta was a denazification and public education project supported by key U.S. arts institutions, and it was intended to usher postwar West Germany back into the ways of Western democracy and Cold War capitalism.

For the first time since the Nazi period, that 1955 exhibition presented modern art of the 1930s and after to West Germans, some of whom had never seen it in public because of Nazi confiscation campaigns and persecution of the avant-garde. Held every five years since, the well-funded exhibition came to showcase advanced and challenging art of the West; it became associated with a 1970s agenda of moving art into life and thereby expanding democracy.

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This article also appears in the issue 92 - Democracy

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