Collapse and Recovery: Failure as Curatorial Strategy in dOCUMENTA (13)

In 2018 I received my Masters in Critical and Visual Studies from Kendall College of Art and Design. My thesis was titled Collapse and Recovery: Failure as Curatorial Strategy in dOCUMENTA (13). It was about three failed artworks at the 2012 edition of Documenta in Kassel, Germany. The abstract is below. The full thesis is published here.

This thesis considers three failed artworks at dOCUMENTA (13) and the various attempts at recovery and recuperation made by Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. dOCUMENTA (13) was the 2012 iteration of Documenta, a major contemporary art survey exhibition that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. The narrative and theoretical underpinnings of three failed elements of dOCUMENTA (13) provide ways of considering the nature and limits of the power wielded by this kind of art institution. Artist Kai Althoff’s letter of withdrawal from the exhibition, displayed in lieu of his artwork, demonstrates the conflicting interplay between artistic autonomy and curatorial intent, pushing institutional critique into new, ethically questionable territory. The loan of El Chaco, a meteorite that was to be transported from Argentina to Kassel by artists Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolas Goldberg, was canceled amid accusations of colonialism. The failed loan demonstrates an incommensurability between Object-Oriented Ontology and anti-colonial praxis. Finally, the attempt by Christov-Bakargiev to censor Stephan Balkenhol’s Man in the Tower, a public sculpture that was not part of dOCUMENTA (13), illustrates the limits of the curator as meta-artist, and the exhibition as Gesamtkunstwerk. This analysis problematizes the way the curator has assumed an auteur position within major survey exhibitions, whereby they wield enough power to not only recover from organizational failures, but to re-contextualize and integrate failures into a broader curatorial strategy. What are the implications of employing a curatorial strategy that attempts to succeed at failing? This research examines cases where this approach effectively recuperates failure into the thematic goals of the exhibition, cases where this approach is ineffective, and analyzes the difference between the two as a way of arriving at a more complete understanding of how exhibitions exert power and make meaning.

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