Works such as this reinforce the curators’ conception of the fecundity and the continuing relevance of 1960s feminist art. Leonard’s career is a striking example of how the questions raised then about wider social issues–and some of the artistic techniques used for addressing them (here, Martha Rosler’s photo and text work, The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (1974), is paradigmatic) –can serve as a foundation for tackling the even more complex and dispersed problems facing the present. These occur not only within the labyrinths of globalized exchange, but also in intensely personal settings. Imogen Stidworthy’s video installation I Hate (2007) shows the efforts of photographer Edward Woodman, who lost his speech in an accident in 2001, to pronounce words and sentence fragments. Alongside, she exhibits his panoramic photographs of the recent building of the Eurostar Terminal at Kings Cross, drawing out the parallels between such painstaking constructions of verbal and visual languages.
The last, large question posed by Documenta 12–What is to be done?–goes largely unanswered for the two-, three- or four-day visitor. It is addressed in the education program, which is spread over the 100 days of the show. It receives rather token treatment in the third of the magazines. Entitled Education, it mostly echoes the mix of reflective essays and short profiles on previously neglected modernist and avant-garde artists that constituted the bulk of the other issues. A statement by the education curators of Documenta concludes the volume. Of necessity, it amounts to a warm invitation to take up the educational offerings on the site. In all, this is hardly an answer to a question made famous by Lenin, and still, but of course quite differently, pressing today.
There is a mood abroad in Europe that these questions are best tackled by revisiting past moments when issues like them were dealt with by previous generations of artists and curators. In Paris this spring, the major historical survey and the major survey of contemporary art both took this form, quite literally. At the Grand Palais, a comprehensive celebration of the Nouvelle Realists was presented, for the most part, as a string of recreations of the exhibitions in which, since the later 1950s, their work appeared. The Centre Pompidou celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with an exhibition Airs de Paris that, paying homage to Duchamp, focused on art that addressed the spaces and spirit of the city. It did so by mixing new works with installations from key earlier exhibitions at the Centre.
The most interesting element at Muenster was precisely those many works that reflected on the history of the Sculpture Project itself. Dominique Gonzalez- Foerster did this, on a playground level, by filling a small park with miniatures of previous projects. Kids loved it. Scandinavian duo Elmgreen and Dragset presented a stage play in which maquettes of classic works by Barbara Hepworth (with a smoker’s cough), Alberto Giacometti (suffering from depression) and Jeff Koons (wise-cracking all the while) failed, amusingly, to communicate. Michael Asher’s parking of a caravan at various sites around the city is the one work that has been repeated at each of the iterations since 1977. Then, it was the only genuinely mobile work in a show dominated by minimalist monoliths. Now, it is a quaint artifact. The strongest piece is Bruce Nauman’s inverted pyramid: white concrete wedges sunk into the ground beside a university physics building, where its spatial reversal works with implacable effectiveness, especially if you stand at its center and see that its perimeters are at eye-level. This work was proposed in 1977, but rejected then. That its realization now knocks all the other “new” public art out of the ball park tells us heaps about the trouble that this category of practice is in, everywhere.