Texte zur Kunst no. 68 (December 2007) contains my review of the exhibition Forms of Resistance at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (pp. 216-220.).
"Earlier this year, in a presentation that was part of its Living Archive series, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven exhibited a letter by Hans Haacke dated July 27, 1980, addressed to the museum’s director at the time, Rudi Fuchs. In it Haacke, who had exhibited at the Van Abbe in the previous year, criticized Fuchs’ increasing embrace of Baselitz, Kiefer, and Lüpertz, whose painting—so Haacke argued—combined derivative and regressive aesthetic strategies with loaded iconographic elements to a highly dubious effect. Haacke’s letter was duly archived by the museum, and Fuchs went on to make Documenta 7, in which the “new painting” triumphed. As a sobering reminder of the shaky position of any politicized practice in an art world ruled by the cyclical time of fashion, Haacke’s letter might have provided a much-needed element of reflection in the Van Abbemuseums’s show Forms of Resistance, which takes place at a moment when there are signs that the institutional possibilities for critical practices in the art world are dwindling fast.
"As its subtitle Artists and the Desire for Social Change from 1871 to the Present suggests, the curatorial team—current director Charles Esche with Will Bradley and Phillip van den Bossche—opted for a retrospective structure, selecting four crucial historical moments as markers: the Paris Commune (1871), the Russian revolution (1917), the Prague Spring (1968) and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). However, no real effort is made to articulate this chronology and go from a mass of data to something that could actually be called history; the relations of repetition and difference between these moments are hardly explored. [...]
"With its neo-bourgeois aesthetic, this year’s Documenta 12 was a clear indication of a changing climate, personified by the curator as latter-day dandy browsing through the world of forms, de- and recontextualizing them solely on the basis of his rarified taste and the alleged universality of various motifs. In a different way, Forms of Resistance is equally non-committal. The question of the form(s) of resistance is never really addressed; the Bauhaus is swell, but so are the Post-colonial and revolutionary African and South American figurative murals in one of the exhibition’s largest spaces. Anything goes. Rather than question various existing political and artistic strategies and explore their potentials, contradictions and failures, “Forms of Resistance” nostalgically presents even intellectual stagnation and political delusions as resistance."
One small addendum to this review: in the closing paragraph I praise the juxtaposition, on the walls of the central space with its reconstruction of Rodchenko's Workers' Club, of printed matter by Hans Haacke and activist posters, all pertaining to the Shah regime in Persia. In my righteous anger at this trainwreck of an exhibition, it somehow escaped my mind that another space, a far from successful assembly of 1970s and 1980s pieces including Hans Haacke's large Philips tritych, includes a similar montage on one of its walls.