dOCUMENTA(13): On seriality – or pausing with painting

Since we addressed the topic of resting already: The documenta-Halle is the perfect spot for a pause. It’s entirely dedicated to »artworks thinking through what painting is today«. Albeit their political, socio-critical contexts the exhibition is intensive and yet quite a lull in the documenta-overload, because the different artistic positions share the leitmotif of repetition and layering. The resulting contrast of serious issues and calming form is super interesting.

Niche Berlin‘s Stefanie Gerke discovering Gustav Metzger

There’s a deliberately monotonous archival presentation of works by German political artist Gustav Metzger, which survived his concept of auto-destructive art. The libanese Etel Adnan fills an entire room with „meditations on nature“: 38 small canvases are colourful variations of abstracted landscapes. (But also tapestries, super 8 clippings and a Leporello.) In the cabinet lying in the rear end of the hall, visitors are immersed in the nightmarish scenario created by Indian artist Nalini Malani. It’s like literally entering a trance: In Search of Vanished Blood (2012) is a complex video/shadow play (6 channels, 4 spots and 5 rotating cylinders!) with dark motives such as widowhood in India and miscommunication, the imagery based on texts by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Christa Wolf and Rainer Maria Rilke and the soundscape on excerpts of works by Heiner Müller, Samuel Beckett and Mahasweta Devi.

Julie Mehretu

More slick yet equally absorbing are the contributions by the American artist Julie Mehretu and the German artist Thomas Bayerle. Mehretu shows new, super detailed, meticulous studies of revolutionary places such as Tahir Square and Zuccoti Park, which like all her multilayered paintings are of intriguing depth. In the central space of documenta-Halle Bayrle’s large-scale installation comprises two no less monumental works on the wall, beautifully presented in pure skylight. Eight car engines Bayrle transformed into praying kinetic sculptures catch the attention. The engines transcend their original purpose: Cut open and their repetitive sound accompanied by the equally monotonous recordings of rosary prayers, they’re fascinating to observe.

Thomas Bayrle

Yan Lei

In contrast to the other positions Yan Lei’s Limited Art Project (2011-2012) seems almost refreshingly simple: It consists of 360 paintings that cover the rooms ceilings and walls and are placed in storage racks. The artist chose key images of art history, deliberately cropped them and painted them on canvas. During one year Yan Lei intuitively chose one image a day that had caught his eye more than others when surfing in the worldwide web. Throughout the exhibition his visual diary will be gradually deleted, the sources concealed, one after one the paintings are lacquered in cooperation with a local Volkswagen factory – leaving the room filled with monochrome surfaces at the end of dOCUMENTA(13).

This is the fifth part of Niche Berlin’s thoughts on dOCUMENTA (13), read part one, two, three and four.


also leave a comment
  1. Sam Murakami on


    Wow I love all that structural work, it’s so inspiring! Great pictures and thank you for sharing, would def. love to visit once I’m back in Berlin!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.