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Documenta 5 at Specific Object

image from Documenta 5 at Specific Object
specific object / david platzker


documenta 5 : 30. Juni bis 8. Oktober 1972

June 30 - October 8, 2007

Specific Object / David Platzker is pleased to announce the opening of the exhibition documenta 5 : 30. Juni bis 8. Oktober 1972. The exhibition will be on view at Specific Object from June 30 through October 8, 2007.

Thirty-five years to the day later, the show examines the run-up, exhibition, and critical aftermath of the original presentation through the printed materials produced for the 1972 exhibit in Kassel, Germany. Both hailed and derided by artists and critics, the exhibition was the largest, most expensive and most diverse of any exhibition anywhere, and foreshadowed all large-scale, collaboratively curated, comprehensive mega-shows to come.

Documenta 5, subtitled "100 Days of Inquiry into Reality -- Today's Imagery," curated by the team of Harald Szeemann, Jean-Christophe Ammann and Arnold Bode, followed a lineage of comprehensive shows documenting conceptually and minimally charged artworks curated by Szeemann including Live in Your Head (Kunsthalle Bern, 1969), Happenings and Fluxus (Kunstverein, Köln), 1970 as well as the exhibitions Konzeption / Conception (curated by Rolf Wedewer and Konrad Fischer at Stadtischen Museum, Leverkusen, 1969), Information (curated by Kynaston McShine at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970), Software (cuarated by Jack Burnham at The Jewish Museum, 1970), and the Guggenheim International Exhibition (curated by Diane Waldman and Edward F. Fry at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1971).

Featuring the works of over 170 artists and an equally expansive variety of materials and subjects drawn from popular cultural materials such as science fiction publications, kitsch objects, exploitation films, as well as advertising imagery, in addition to the more anticipated painting and sculpture - Documenta 5 valiantly attempted to bridge the gap between art, culture, science and the broader society.

A lasting highlight of the exhibition was the graphic logo for the show designed by Edward Ruscha. Commissioned by Szeeman, Ruscha's graphic image for the show featured ants arranged in the word "Docu / menta" and the number "5." The emblem was used on the exhibition's poster, catalogue cover, as well as on a limited edition screenprint, which is included in Specific Object's exhibition. Additionally, Ruscha also contributed a project found within the catalogue titled "5 Girlfriends," which incorporated headshots of the artist's high school girlfriends from Tulsa, Okalahoma.

In addition to warm sentimentality in the years following, critical commentary from 1972 included:

" ... nastier ... unending and unendurable ... bizarre ... vulgar ... sadistic ... "
-- Hilton Kramer, The New York Times, July 1, 1972

" ... painful ... crazy ... very little art ... but a lot of paradox "
-- Michael Gibson, International Herald Tribune, July 8-9, 1972

" ... chaotic ... quagmire ... hermetic ... troublesome ... disappointingly unviable ... "
-- Henry J. Seldis, The Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1972

" ... circumambient silliness ... "
-- John Russell, The Sunday Times (London), July 16, 1972

" ... monstrous ... overtly deranged ... "
-- Barbara Rose, New York Magazine, August 14, 1972

"There is some reason to think that Szeemann, for all his thematic planning, misjudged New York artists socially. He antagonized women artists as a group ... [then] he perfunctorily rejected them all."
-- Lawrence Alloway, Artforum, October 1972

Documenta 5 viscerally enraged artists well before its opening. Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Barry Le Va, Robert Morris, Dorothea Rockburne, Fred Sandback, Richard Serra, and Robert Smithson jointly penned an advertisement placed in Artforum (June 1972) condemning both the exhibition itself as well as curated exhibitions in general. Haacke, LeWitt, Le Va, Rockburn and Serra allowed their works to be shown nonetheless, while Smithson contributed only to the exhibition's catalogue with a text railing against museums. Andre, Judd, Morris, and Sandback withdrew from the exhibition altogether.

An additional letter by Morris appeared enlarged to a full-page within Flash Art (May-June 1972) that took further issue with curators, asserting: "I do not want to have my work used to illustrate misguided sociological principles or outmoded art historical categories ... "

Smithson's text from the catalogue also appeared in English for the first time within the October 1972 issue of Artforum and stated: "Cultural confinement takes place when a curator imposes his own limits on an art exhibition, rather than asking an artist to set his limits. ... Could it be that certain art exhibitions have become metaphysical junkyards? Categorical miasmas? Intellectual rubbish? Specific intervals of visual desolation? ... "

Paradoxically, the Documenta 5 catalogue – a true masterpiece in its own right – contained three versions of “The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement,” one each in English, German, and French. A contractual document commissioned by Seth Siegelaub and authored by Bob Projansky in 1971 which perpetually conferred rights to artists to their artworks once they had been sold, it intended to insure that artists would receive "15% of any increase in the value of each work each time it is transferred [sold] in the future," "the rights to be notified when the work is to be exhibited, so the artist can advise upon or veto the proposed exhibition of his/her work," as well as "to give assurance to the owner that he is using the work in harmony with the artist's intentions" as well as other economic and intellectual rights.

The parallels between 1972 and 2007 are deeply striking -- the topic of Jens Hoffman's 2005 book The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By An Artist resonates with the artists’ statements vis-à-vis Documenta 5. The similarities between then and now runs deeper: the United States was engaged in a deeply unpopular war; the world was bitterly divided between East and West; genocide was rampant in Africa; factional violence and terrorism were pervasive in Europe and the Middle East, and the American president would soon vacate the office.

The exhibition at Specific Object contains elements from before, during and after Documenta 5 including the exhibition's catalogue, exhibition ephemera, artists' publications and editions produced in conjunction with the exhibition by Art & Language, Joseph Beuys, Claes Oldenburg, Edward Ruscha, and Lawrence Weiner, as well as reviews and critical responses to the 1972 exhibition. A complete checklist is available upon request, or through the link:

Read Roberta Smith's review of Documenta 5 by clicking here.

Specific Object's hours are Monday - Friday 11 AM to 5 PM, or by appointment. The exhibition will continue through October 8, 2007. The gallery will be closed between August 6 and August 17.

Specific Object is located at 601 West 26th Street / Floor 2M / Room M285, New York, New York 10001. Telephone (212) 242-6253.

Specific Object's website is