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The most prestigious art exhibition in the world is over. Maybe forever.

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It was therefore less of an exhibition than what my colleague Siddhartha Mitter, reviewing the exhibition in June, aptly called “a whole ambience”. Vibing was his goal, and his downfall too. Documenta 15, by design, militated against its own viewing — “the viewer is obsolete,” the catalog reads — because the show’s real work wasn’t the stuff on the walls. but what lay around her. In other words, the actual content and form of these Palestinian unrest films of the 1970s and 1980s mattered less than the new collective group that brought them here, and the other artists who came together to vibe with them. Community was treated as an end in itself: we were there, as ruangrupa urged us, to “make friends, not art!”

Well, that sounds fun. But what if your friends’ art sucks? This “controversial” Documenta was — to talk about what visitors seen in Kassel – the safest and most boring of this century, as evidenced by the almost non-existent discussion around one of the arts on display. Beyond archival propaganda, it was bloated with exhibits of studios you weren’t invited to, jeju videos that barely deserved acceptance into an art school graduation presentation, and countless posters and banners worthy of a teenager’s bedroom wall (“This is my voice, listen”), or an NGO training seminar (“Our goal is to respect and honor the humanity of everyone in space like using people’s chosen pronoun”). Yet for a growing culture faction, complaining about the pathetically low standard of art on display is irrelevant at best, oppressive at worst. Artists matter, art doesn’t. Sharing is caring. Pass the beer.

It’s all been a terrible embarrassment, but why should anyone outside of Germany worry? Because Documenta has always been a pioneer – and this year’s edition has certainly pointed to a bigger shift, also seen in our museums, art schools and magazines, away from aesthetic ambition and from intellectual seriousness and towards the easier comfort of conviviality, defense and amusement. If your friends’ art sucks, that’s actually okay, because being together matters more than doing something well. And if the German press says your friends’ art sucks, that’s fine too – reassuring, in fact, as proof that this world of rotten colonizers has no place for us.

If the “100 Day Museum,” as Documenta is called, returns in 2027, it will likely be with a more “conservative” or “market-friendly” back-to-order edition than this one. I doubt Documenta will command the respect and pre-eminence it had before this year, and it will never regain its purpose of imagining the whole world in one show. The dream of a global art world is dead, and I fear that many people, reactionaries or radicals, prefer it that way. The incomprehension and anger aroused by this show is proof that they always wanted us not to have a common future.

But the postcolonial world, to quote a man more serious than most Documenta 15 attendees, is not “a vulgar state of endless contestation and anomie, chaos and unsustainability.” The postcolonial world is “a world of proximities”, and the work of an exhibition is to make these encounters productive, meaningful, edifying, beautiful. In art, at least at its best, “the tensions that govern all ethical relations between citizen and subject converge”.

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