مرکزی صفحہ October A Balancing Act

A Balancing Act

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جلد:
82
زبان:
english
رسالہ:
October
DOI:
10.2307/779002
Date:
January, 1997
فائل:
PDF, 3.31 MB
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A Balancing Act
Author(s): George Baker and Christian Philipp Müller
Source: October, Vol. 82 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 94-118
Published by: The MIT Press
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A Balancing Act*

GEORGE BAKER AND

CHRISTIAN PHILIPP MfULLER

0 Melancholy bitter castle of eagles.

-Marcel Broodthaers, Mon livre d'ogre
1. The Retroperspective

One of the more melancholic, at times devastating, laws of history lies in the
fact that it is only with the decay of a given object-with the ruination of an
institution, the break-up of a cultural formation, the obsolescence of a conceptthat its history becomes visible for the first time, that it becomes available for
historical contemplation. What then are we to make of a Documenta exhibition
defined by its curator as a "retroperspective," as an exhibition that will look back
upon its predecessors to define more clearly the cultural situation of the present?
What should we make of an exhibition that will specifically turn to the important
Documenta exhibitions of the 1960s and 1970s in order to isolate what its curator

paradoxically terms a "tradition of innovation"? With this otherwise admirable
desire to construct genealogies, to situate historically the status of contemporary
art, one must make the parallel admis; sion that such a situation is also rife with
* The following text exists as an extension of Christian Philipp Mfiller's recent eponymous

contribution to Documenta X in Kassel, Germany. A much abbreviated version of the text was made
available to viewers in Kassel as one element within the total informational context presented by

Miiller in the Fridericianum. The circumstances of the collaboration were as follows: the larger

parameters of the project as a whole were almost fully completed before Miuller solicited my assistance

in drafting this, the most explicitly art historical component of the project. Much of the initial
research was completed by Miller in Kassel; Mfiller mainly conducted oral interviews focusing upon
the relevant recollections of various local figures and also utilized the materials preserved in the
Documenta Archive. In terms of institutional requirements, after receiving his invitation to the
Documenta, Miller was offered a contract and a "fee for research" to be performed, a service that
was then presented within the exhibition. After inviting me to participate in this collaboration and
after sharing his initial research, Mfiller and I conducted extensive verbal dialogues on the various
ramifications of the historical and artistic situation investigated here, and conducted a second round

of research in New York. The text was subsequently drafted by myself, and then edited and reworked in

close collaboration between the two of us. The final section of this text marks an exception to the
collaboration: the short description and minimal interpretation of Mfiller's installation was written by
myself and does not necessarily reflect Miuller's own interpretation of his contribution-George Baker.
OCTOBER 82, Fall 1997, pp. 95-118. ? 1997 October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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View of the Friedrichsplatz during its reconstruction showing

Walter De Maria's Vertical Earth Kilometer in the foreground
and a section ofJoseph Beuys's 7000 Oaks in the background.

March 1996.

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96

OCTOBER

contradictions-contradictions muffled beneath the optimistic, even triumphalist,
rhetoric surrounding the publicity for Catherine David's Documenta X.
As one key symptom of these larger contradictions, we can perhaps look to

a specific installation within the exhibition: the reinstallation of Marcel

Broodthaers's Musee d'Art Moderne, Dipartement des Aigles, Section Publicitei of
1972. Recently reinstalled in New York, the display at Documenta X-organized
by one of the curators of perhaps the most important Broodthaers retrospective
of recent years-returns Broodthaers's work to its original site, for it was first
presented in Kassel at Documenta 5. What happens to the discursive and historical specificity of Broodthaers's now twenty-five-year-old intervention in this
re-presentation? In New York, the installation seemed to operate as a historical
document, countering the loss and historical silence that had seemed to be the
destiny of this work in the critical arena of the United States.' Here, however, in
Kassel, the work carries a much heavier curatorial load. Internally constructed
around the principle of the archive, Broodthaers's work takes its place alongside
similar archival investigations as well as within an exhibition itself seemingly

curated around the theoretical notion of the archive. Assisted in this by the
photography historian Jean-Francois Chevrier (who coauthored much of the catalogue), David has included Gerhard Richter's monumental Atlas project, the work
of Walker Evans, one of Hans Haacke's 1971 real estate pieces, the photographs of
Jeff Wall, as well as other historical works by now-deceased artists such as Gordon
Matta-Clark. We are thus presented with a Documenta exhibition that will not
solely be concerned with displaying the most contemporary of artistic projects, but
will also involve itself in a certain project of re-presentation, the re-presentation of

a very specific and selective recent past. And whatever the value of this historical project, we are left with a pressing series of questions. Does the curatorial

project of Catherine David have a homogenizing effect upon the historical
works themselves? Have they been instrumentalized in their presentation

within the Documenta? How does the historical orientation of this Documenta

affect the presentation of the contemporary work? Does this archival project
imply, or even enact, structural transformations in relation to these contemporary activities?

After an initial open invitation, David suggested to Christian Philipp Mailler
that he participate in the current Documenta by contemplating a specific historical
1. On the potential uses and contemporary relevance of this specific Broodthaers piece, see

George Baker, "This Is Not an Advertisement: Marcel Broodthaers' Section Publiciti," Artforum (May
1996), pp. 86-89, 124. It would seem that upon its first exhibition at Documenta, Broodthaers was
already reflecting upon the very circumstances that now greet his piece at the moment of its reexhibition: "Founded in Brussels in 1968 under the pressure of political perceptions of the moment, this
museum now closes its doors at Documenta. It will have passed from a heroic and solitary form to one

bordering on consecration, thanks to the help from the Kunsthalle Dfisseldorf and that of

Documenta." From a handout available at the Section Publiciti, translated in Marcel Broodthaers: Musie
d'Art Moderne, Dipartement des Aigles, Section Publiciti, ed. Maria Gilissen and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh
(New York: Marian Goodman Gallery, 1995), p. 9.

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Museum Fridericianum on the

Friedrichsplatz. Late eighteenth century.

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work: Joseph Beuys's contribution to Documenta 7, 7000 Oaks. The contradictions
that have arisen during the course of this contemplation have been immense
indeed. It is perhaps only in squarely facing them that one could remain optimistic
about the function of the current Documenta, that one could, in fact, salvage the
potential inherent in any cultural event of this scope-that one could, in the end,
frustrate the destiny that historical contemplation seems increasingly to guarantee
for the Documenta: it has become the Olympics of the contemporary art world,
caught between modern media spectacle and the nineteenth-century tradition of
the international commodity exhibition.
2. The Site

If it can still be maintained that events are intrinsically connected to the sites

within which they take place, Documenta's presence in Kassel alone gives rise to a
pressing series of historical contradictions. Located in a provincial city evidently
despised by the very art critics who periodically flock to it-an American critic
once described Kassel as a cross between Woolworth's and Sing Sing-Kassel is, at
the same time, the home of the Museum Fridericianum, built between 1769 and
1779 as the first museum in all of Europe.2 From the moment of its inception, the
2. For the aforementioned appraisal of Kassel, contained in an American reaction to Documenta
6, see David Shapiro, "A View of Kassel," Artforum (September 1977), p. 57. Significantly, Shapiro
spared the Fridericianum and its surrounding space from this judgment, stating that "the great park
and gardens, however, as well as the facade of the Fridericianum itself, provide a difficult but dizzily
inviting ground for work on a large scale" (p. 57).

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98

OCTOBER

museum was intrinsically linked to a larger conception of the public sphere
and urban space-the building still physically dominates the green swath of
the Friedrichsplatz, and the museum's construction coincided with a larger
Enlightenment project of urban rationalization that saw the destruction of
medieval fortifications in Kassel and the laying down of a gridded street plan in
the area. The museum and the planned urban space of Kassel are linked in their
very origins; the Fridericianum was designed ultimately to make the new urban
construction more attractive, even palatable, in the face of the destruction of the
older structures.

But the Fridericianum is also inextricably bound to a much more insidious
history. In the eighteenth century, Kassel was the seat of the aristocracy of Hesse, a
feudal state known for the rigorous training of its army. The expensive construction

of public gardens and buildings like the Fridericianum went forward despite the

fact that Hesse was actually a relatively poor land, with its roughly 400,000

inhabitants subsisting chiefly through agriculture. This poverty did not affect the
Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel, however; they were, as one commentator has put it,

"dealers in men." The Landgrave Frederick II actually played a role in the

American Revolutionary War through the infamous deployment of his Hessian

mercenaries. The museum that now bears his name was erected upon the
exploitation of the surrounding peasantry and upon the bodies of Hessian

mercenaries and their military victims-upon the bloody profits of war.3

3. Rebirth ?

The history of Documenta and the Fridericianum is, of course, linked to war in

more ways than one. In the 1930s, Kassel served as one of Hitler's key ammunition
depots, a function that eventually led to the city's almost total destruction by the
Allies in the final phase of World War II. The first Documenta exhibition was the
idea of Kassel art professor Arnold Bode; it took place in 1955 in the still bombedout shell of the Fridericianum. Early Documentas were famous for their temporary
exhibition designs, for the necessity of creating architectural structures within the

destroyed museum to house the contemporary art. The transitoriness and contingency of the original Documenta situation seemed to have been fully reversed by
the time of Rudi Fuchs's 1982 Documenta 7; Fuchs prided himself on the permanent and lush reconstruction of the exhibition spaces to match his Documenta's
emphasis on lush and monumental art (mostly Neo-Expressionist painting).
At just this moment, however, it had become increasingly evident that the

original connections-both economic and ideological-between the cultural

situation and the population of Kassel, between the Fridericianum and its urban

space, had also been completely reversed with the rise to prominence of the
3. On this point and this history, see Douglas Crimp, "The Art of Exhibition," in On the Museum's
Ruins (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), pp. 236-38.

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A

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99

Documenta exhibitions. A split had opened up between the site and the art,
between the city and its use for and to the contemporary art world. The critic and
historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh registered just this split in his acerbic reaction
to Fuchs's Documenta in 1982. Kassel, he wrote then, was

reconstructed in a rush during the economic miracle to become one of
the ugliest cities west of Siberia, a city where Volkswagens are now

assembled by Turkish, Spanish, and Italian hands. The blandness of

the architecture is only exceeded by the blandness of the inhabitants,
who seem to have eaten their way from their Fascist past to their neocapitalist present. The population of Kassel could not care less about
Documenta and international contemporary art, just as the international art world could not care less about the people of the city and
state that sponsors the most expensive of art exhibitions.4
4. Eternity

Christian Philipp Muiller's project for Documenta X began with a simple
question: What physical traces have been left in the city of Kassel after nine
Documentas? Noticing in 1996 that the Friedrichsplatz had been disfigured by
the construction of an underground car park, Miller became interested in the
two site-specific sculptures still to be seen there: Walter De Maria's The Vertical
Earth Kilometer (1977) and the first and last trees of Joseph Beuys's 7000 Oaks
project. Constructed during Documenta 6, De Maria's sculpture involved the
drilling of a hole one kilometer into the earth; a solid brass circular rod two
inches in diameter and one kilometer long was dropped into the hole. Flush with
the ground of the Friedrichsplatz, its top end is surrounded by a red sandstone

plate. The sculpture's placement originally marked the center crossing of the
pathways that bisect the Friedrichsplatz. Joseph Beuys's proposal for Documenta
7 was to plant 7,000 oak trees throughout the city of Kassel; Beuys planted the
first of these trees with a basalt stone marker in the Friedrichsplatz in 1982.
After Beuys's death in 1986, the last of the 7,000 trees was finally planted next to

the first by Beuys's widow and his son to mark the opening of the next

Documenta in 1987.

In their different ways, both projects had evidently left the physical frame of

the museum, opting for placement in the urban space of Kassel. But had they

truly escaped their institutional frame? On the Friedrichsplatz, De Maria's

earthwork and the first and last of Beuys's trees seem to act as little more than

logos for the museum building standing directly behind them.5 As the most
4. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, "Documenta 7: A Dictionary of Received Ideas," October 22 (Fall 1982),

p. 114.
5. The attempt to bypass institutional frameworks was perhaps one of the key motivating forces
behind many earthworks and was critiqued as such by contemporaneous artists like Daniel Buren.
This was new terrain for Joseph Beuys, who explicitly put his desire to bypass the art institution in

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View of the redesigned Friedrichsplatz.
September 1996.

spectacular projects of their respective Documentas, they entrenched themselves
within the media frame of the Documenta to the very same extent that they left the

museum's physical frame. Today both are advertised in the publicity brochure for
Documenta X; they are also featured in the tourist brochures of the city of Kassel.

Outside on the Friedrichsplatz, are these two works examples of public art?

Both wed themselves to their sites in a manner that one could describe as site-

specific. Buried deep within the earth, The Vertical Earth Kilometer is essentially
immovable and indestructible; permanently in place, it takes on the character of a
geological phenomenon. Beuys's trees too are site-specific; configured for the

town of Kassel, they are nontransferable, literally rooted into the earth.

Participating in the permanence implicit in many site-specific projects, however,
these works push that definition onto a qualitatively different level: they aim to be

eternal both in their material embodiment and artistic implications. Beuys
thought of his project as an expression of what he called "super time," a temporal
trajectory measured in terms of the life span of an oak tree, which he estimated as
800 years. Even after that, his basalt stones will still stand beside the decaying
relation to 7000 Oaks into words: "I proposed [ 7000 Oaks] to Rudi Fuchs when he invited me to partici-

pate in the Documenta. I said that I would not like to go again inside the buildings to participate in
the setting up of so-called art-works. I wished to go completely outside and to make a symbolic start

for my enterprise of regenerating the life of human kind within the body of society and to prepare a
positive future in this context" (see Richard Demarco, "Conversations with Artists," Studio International

195, no. 996 [September 1982], p. 46).

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A

Balancing

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trunks. One can only imagine how long De Maria's brass rod will lie buried

beneath Kassel.

Along with the desire of both works for eternal permanence seems to have
come a concomitant desire to forget all that most immediately surrounds each
piece, a desire to escape less the spatial than the temporal, historical frame of

each sculpture: the Documenta history, the city of Kassel, and the material

conditions that brought each piece into existence, that allowed for their physical
constitution. The sovereign desire upon the part of both Beuys and De Maria to
mark the face of the city permanently, the absolute control inherent (as we will
see) in both projects, was a desire eventually deflated by the city of Kassel itself.
With its construction of a car park completed in 1996, the city literally pulled

the rug out from beneath both works by redesigning the very face of the

Friedrichsplatz. De Maria's Vertical Earth Kilometer no longer marks the center of
the place today; it has been shunted off to one side, almost forgotten in the grand
sweep and new symmetries of the plaza. Beuys's trees and basalt stones are also
now in a completely illogical position in relation to the path system.
The split between the site and the art, between Documenta and Kassel, now
registers physically on the skewed face of the Friedrichsplatz.6 How did such a

situation arise?

6. The use of De Maria's and Beuys's sculptures as advertising in both the Documenta X and civic
tourist brochures speaks to an aspect of site-specific practices recently pointed to by Miwon Kwon:
"Site specificity remains inexorably tied to a process that renders particularity and identity of various

cities a matter
product
differentiation.
.... the
Under
the pretext
of theirvia
articulation
or resuscitation,
site-specific
artofcan
be mobilized
to expedite
erasure
of differences
the commodification
and
serialization of places" (Kwon, "One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity," October 80 [Spring
1997], p. 106). Kwon seems to essentialize the engagement of site-oriented practices with advertising
and commodification techniques; such limitations, when acknowledged as such, can perhaps be put to

pragmatic uses. However, along with other considerations, this insight leads Kwon to the crucial

supposition that site-specific work may in fact be compensatory in its very origins, a reaction to the loss

of the unique identity of urban spaces and places in recent decades. The contradiction that we are
highlighting in the context of the Friedrichsplatz speaks to the compensatory operation Kwon

describes. In support of her claim, Kwon cites Craig Owens's writings on early site-specific projects by
Smithson and others where Owens highlights the melancholic dimension of such work (see Owens,

"The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism," October 12 [Spring 1980]). To

recognize the compensatory, melancholic dimension of site specificity in its initial formulation may,
however, require a recognition of the increasing exacerbation, even the impossibility, of such practices
today-not a necessity for their redefinition under the same name, a redefinition that now runs the
danger of recuperating recent practices under the site-specific now understood as a style. Kwon's
essay specifically critiques this recuperation and yet at other points employs a totalizing rhetoric that

enacts the increasing homogenization of varied practices under the rubric of the site-specific. I
(G.B.) have used the same passages from Owens to open up a potential reading of Rende Green's

recent installation Partially Buried (1996); see my review "Ren6e Green, Pat Hearn Gallery," Artforum
(February 1997), pp. 89-90. It seems to be increasingly important to realize the ways in which many
recent so-called site-specific projects are in fact attempting a trenchant critique of the very conditions
and possibilities of site-specific work itself, not a continuation or a vague redefinition of the term.
This text and project allegorizes, or at least is involved in, a similar-and quite specific-critique of a
certain idea of site specificity; it also aims at exposing some of the specific conditions that (when
repressed) always rendered the site-specific potentially melancholic and compensatory. Now revealed,
the situation's contradictions do read as increasingly-at least under present circumstances-impossible
(see note 20).

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102

OCTOBER

5. Dia Means "The Godlike One"

"One artist, one space, forever"7-this seems to have become the motto of

one of the founders of the original Dia Art Foundation, an aesthetic credo
stumbled upon at the moment of the future German gallerist Heiner Friedrich's
first major experience with a work of art. Friedrich was nineteen years old; the
experience was his 1957 visit to the fourteenth-century Arena Chapel frescoes
painted by Giotto in Padua. "Seeing this chapel at age nineteen became for me

the true insight for the unfolding and development of Dia," he has said.8

Friedrich founded the Dia Art Foundation in 1974, with the collaboration (and

funds) of his future wife, Philippa de Menil (now Fariha Friedrich-she and
Friedrich embraced Sufi Islam upon their marriage in 1979). As to the choice of
the Foundation's name, "Dia" literally means "through" in Greek, pointing to its
founders' belief that the organization would function as a "conduit" for artistic
creativity. It also means "the godlike one." Dia immediately set itself up as a major
source of patronage for a select group of contemporary artists. "Dia is about art,"
Friedrich explains,
and only about art. The art of today. The twentieth century clearly
stands beside the Renaissance as one of the most powerfully visual
ages. We have artists of the magnitude of Titian, be it Andy Warhol; of
the magnitude of Michelangelo, be it Dan Flavin; of the magnitude of
Donatello, be it Walter De Maria. This is why we did Dia ("Remains,"
p. 182).
As a gallerist, Heiner Friedrich was an early supporter of and investor in both

Walter De Maria and Joseph Beuys. In 1968, for example, Friedrich presented
De Maria's first Earth Room in his Munich gallery, and, in 1970, he produced
Beuys's film Transiberische Bahn, 1961. The financing of the fledgling, New
York-based Dia Art Foundation was subsequently instrumental to the immensely
expensive realization of both The Vertical Earth Kilometer and the 7000 Oaks project
in Kassel.

Dia covered the entire cost of the production, drilling, and installation of
Walter De Maria's almost nineteen-ton sculpture. In 1977, the total cost in American
dollars was $419,000. In that very same year, Dia also completely covered the costs
and has since maintained De Maria's New Mexico installation The Lightning Field.
The foundation initially spent $700,000 on that project. Immediately following

Documenta 7, Heiner Friedrich opened two exhibitions of De Maria's work in

New York City, including The New York Earth Room in October 1977 at his Wooster
7. The motto is mentioned in a recent expos6 of the Dia Center for the Arts; see Bob Colacello,

"Remains of the Dia," Vanity Fair (September 1996), p. 186. The motto is Colacello's, not Friedrich's.
The following paragraphs are indebted to the facts presented in "Remains of the Dia" by Colacello.
8. Ibid., p. 186. All subsequent Friedrich citations come from Colacello's interviews with Friedrich
and are hereafter cited in the text as "Remains."

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Street Gallery. The Earth Room closed on January 31, 1978, and reopened on
January 1, 1980, as a permanent exhibition sponsored by the Dia Art Foundation.
Just months before, Friedrich exhibited a continuation of De Maria's Documenta
6 project, entitled The Broken Kilometer, at his West Broadway gallery in SoHo. On

October 20, 1979, this work too reopened as a permanent exhibition under the
auspices of the Dia Art Foundation. Until a fire recently damaged the gallery in
which The Broken Kilometer was housed, both works could still be seen in New
York City. The indestructible Kilometer was unharmed, however, and Dia will
soon renovate the gallery and reopen the installation.
Along the lines of Joseph Beuys's famous claim that "everybody is an artist,"
the Dia Art Foundation's role in the funding of his piece was more "democratic."
The total cost of Beuys's proposal was also immense: it has been estimated at $1.68
million. Beuys's idea of collective participation in the project took the form of its
collective financing: for $210, anyone could purchase the right to plant one of the

7,000 oak trees and its accompanying basalt stone. For this, each participant
would receive a "Tree Diploma" from Beuys's Free International University. To

initiate the project, Beuys planted the first tree and basalt stone on the

Friedrichsplatz; he then conceived of the genial idea of dumping the other 6,999
basalt stones in a gigantic triangular mound next to the first tree. Upon the
planting of each subsequent tree, one of the basalt stones would be withdrawn
from the Friedrichsplatz pile. With this, Beuys effectively attempted to force the
citizens of Kassel to participate in the planting project; the Friedrichsplatz would

Joseph Beuys. Basalt stones from 7,000 Oaks on the Friedrichsplatz. 1982.

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not be returned to normal until all of the trees were finally planted. The Dia Art
Foundation financed the total cost (DM 280,000) of the installation of the 6,999
basalt stones upon the Friedrichsplatz.
Beuys's scheme seems to have been unsuccessful in eliciting the direct participation of the citizens of Kassel. In 1984, Rudi Fuchs wrote a letter requesting
financial support for the planting of the oaks that was sent to museums around the
world. In 1985, other artists donated work toward an auction that eventually raised
one quarter of the total sum necessary for the planting of the trees. Significant
contributions were made by Beuys himself. In the end, as even one of Beuys's most
celebratory biographers has had to admit, "only a small proportion of the oaks
have been donated by Kassel citizens and institutions; most of the sponsors are outsiders, and the Japanese are easily in the lead with well over a thousand."9

By 1984, Fariha Friedrich had poured more than $35 million of her own
inheritance into the Dia Art Foundation's projects. Nevertheless, the Foundation
was then on the point of financial collapse. Neither Fariha nor Heiner Friedrich
directly control the activities of the renamed Dia Center for the Arts today.
6. The Vertical Earth Kilometer

On May 6, 1977, drilling began for the installation of Walter De Maria's
one-kilometer-long, massive brass pole. This work was begun in the face of
intense protest from both the citizens of Kassel and the German media, who
objected to everything from the excessive expense of the project to the noise that
would be generated by such extensive drilling in the midst of this urban area.
The drilling was eventually noise-proofed. It was not complete by the opening of
Documenta 6, and the spectacle of the "meaningless work" of De Maria's drilling
tower in the midst of the Friedrichsplatz proved to be the most lasting image of

the entire exhibition (much to the annoyance of Joseph Beuys, whose
simultaneous installation, Honey Pump at the Workplace, was comparatively

ignored-an experience that would not be forgotten in 1982).10
9. Heiner Stachelhaus,Joseph Beuys (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991), p. 148.
10. With an enthusiastic rhetoric more resonant with advertising copy for a new car than with art
criticism, Walter De Maria wrote a text entitled "Meaningless Work" in March 1960: "Meaningless
work is obviously the most important and significant art form today. The aesthetic feeling given by

meaningless work cannot be described exactly because it varies with each individual doing the
work. Meaningless work is honest. Meaningless work will be enjoyed and hated by intellectualsthough they should understand it. Meaningless work cannot be sold in art galleries or win prizes in
museums-though old-fashioned records of meaningless work (most all paintings) do partake in
these indignities. ... [De Maria mentions many other examples of meaningless work, one of which
reads as 'digging a hole, then covering it over.'] Meaningless work is potentially the most abstract,
concrete, individual, indeterminate, exactly determined, varied, important art-action-experience
one can undertake today. This concept is not a joke. Try some meaningless work in the privacy of
your own home. In fact, to be fully understood, meaningless work should be done alone or else it
becomes entertainment for others and the reaction or lack of reaction of the art lover to the mean-

ingless work cannot honestly be felt" (cited in Thomas Kellein, Walter De Maria: Funf Kontinente
Skulptur [Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 1987], p. 44).

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De Maria's project emerged from a clear avant-garde lineage of works dealing
with the issue of measurement and quantification, from Marcel Duchamp's Three
Standard Stoppages to more recent pieces byJasperJohns and Robert Morris. More
directly, The Vertical Earth Kilometer seemed explicitly to operate a combination of
the protoconceptual work of the Italian artist Piero Manzoni (e.g., the invisibility
of his Line 1000 Meters Long [1961], a 1000-meter-long line drawing packaged in

a gleaming metal container) with the sculptural aspirations of modernist

precursors such as Constantin Brancusi (e.g., The Endless Column). Not even the
transcendentalism of Brancusi's work, however, matches the hagiography that has
functioned as the reception of The Vertical Earth Kilometer in the years since
Documenta 6. Listen to the recent account of Lars Nittve, curator at Stockholm's

Moderna Museet, as he confronts the brass circle upon the ground of the

Friedrichsplatz:

There seems only one thing to do: you bend down as though propelled
by some inconceivable magnetic force, and press the golden button
with a finger or two. You get in touch with the interior of the earth....
Since its other end is invisible, the kilometer becomes an abstract

concept, simply a sign of something very long, whose far point can be
imagined as immersed in the glowing mass of energy that we assume
makes up the earth's core.ll

On February 15, 1978, the Dia Art Foundation-represented by Heiner
Friedrich-attempted to present The Vertical Earth Kilometer as a permanent gift to
the city of Kassel. This "gift" came with obligations attached: as with all of Dia's

other De Maria pieces, the Foundation attempted to impose control over the
photographic rights to the work (and by extension to the Friedrichsplatz itself);

the foundation also demanded that the city clean the sculpture's sandstone
marker with a broom on a daily basis, requested the installation of several signs
(to be designed by De Maria) labeling the work and directing viewers toward it,
and insisted that no future permanent sculpture be erected within a large radius
of the Kilometer.12 Seemingly cognizant of the fact that as early as the 1950s a plan
11. Lars Nittve, "Energy," Walter De Maria: Two Very Large Presentations (Stockholm: Moderna
Museet, 1989), p. 82. We remind the reader that the Kilometer is made of brass, not gold, and also that
one kilometer is not nearly enough to break through the outermost layers of the earth's crust.

12. The foundation originally requested that nothing be placed within a twelve-meter radius of

the work, that this radius be covered with red sand, and that no vegetation be allowed to grow there
at all. All information regarding the terms of Dia's presentation comes from two sources: "Draft of a
contract between the Dia Art Foundation and the City of Kassel," and "Reply by Herr Viereck for the
City of Kassel," both preserved in the Documenta Archives. John Beardsley has discussed the control
that Dia and Walter De Maria exert over the reception and physical viewing of De Maria's works; see
his "Art and Authoritarianism: Walter De Maria's Lightning Field," October 16 (Spring 1981), pp. 35-38.
To the best of our knowledge, this essay has been excluded from the extensive bibliographies included
in any of Walter De Maria's recent catalogues. Beardsley specifically discusses the control De Maria
asserts over the photographic dissemination of the Lightning Field: De Maria insisted on full editorial
control over an April 1980 expos6 of the project in the pages of Artforum, setting the exclusively color

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had been drafted for the construction of a car park beneath the Friedrichsplatz
(by none other than Arnold Bode himself), Dia also attempted to guarantee that
no underground excavations would expose any part of the buried rod. De Maria
seems to have transformed one of the central tenets of many earthworks: often
implicitly involved in laying claim, including property claims, to usually deserted
land, De Maria transferred this frontier, or better, pioneer mentality to a direct
claim to urban space.13 The city of Kassel never accepted any of these conditions
nor the implication that the Kilometer was Dia's private property; the brass pole

had already been anchored in the public earth of Kassel and the city claimed
right of ownership over it. No signs were ever installed, the aura of the work was
not fully respected by later sculptural exhibitions (witness Beuys), and photography

of the Friedrichsplatz remained unrestricted. The scene had been set for the
town's recent excavation of one-half of the Friedrichsplatz and its subversion of
the original placement of the sculpture.
"I like natural disasters," De Maria wrote in a famous early text, "and I think
that they may be the highest form of art possible to experience. ... If all of the
people who go to museums could just feel an earthquake."'4
7. 7000 Oaks

Perhaps Joseph Beuys took his inspiration from Rudi Fuchs's infamous letter
of invitation to the participating artists of Documenta 7. "How can I describe the
exhibition to you," Fuchs mused, waxing romantic, "the exhibition which floats in
my mind like a star.... One has to come down and go into the forest. There one
encounters the most beautiful trees, wonderful flowers, mysterious lakes and val-

leys-and people who speak different tongues." With the proclamation of his
photographs off from the rest of the magazine by blank gray pages. In several copies of this expose
that we have tried to consult in New York City libraries, vandals have destroyed all traces of the article,
ripping it from the magazine, leaving only a perhaps fitting absence in its place.

13. In this vein, De Maria's project should also be related to the type of project that Robert

Morris began to theorize in the wake of earthworks as "land reclamation." See Morris, "Notes on Art
as/and Land Reclamation" (1980), in Continuous Project Altered Daily (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993),
pp. 211-32. In this key text, Morris was already thinking of site-specific work as less involved in

"object production" than fulfilling a "service function" (p. 224)-an estimation that should be

genealogically related to Andrea Fraser's recent rethinking of project-based work. De Maria's piece,
of course, can in no way be thought of as land reclamation, as it simply transferred the type of
destructive mining operation that Morris proposed aesthetically to ameliorate into the urban sphere.
(There is, however, an irony to De Maria's drilling in Kassel, supported as it was by the Dia Art
Foundation, and thus with money that ultimately has its source in the De Menil family's oil drilling

operations. De Maria utilized money that came from drilling into the earth in order to erect a

drilling tower and to construct a bronze sculpture that was then placed back into the earth-a sort of
apotheosis of his idea of "meaningless work.") On the other hand, Beuys's work should directly be
thought of as a type of land reclamation project-except in his case the land to be reclaimed was no
longer the countryside spoiled by strip mining and resource consumption, but the very center of
occupied, functioning urban space.
14. The text is Walter De Maria's On the Importance of Natural Disasters, written in May 1960, cited in
Kellein, WalterDe Maria, p. 45.

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slogan, "Urban Afforestation Not Urban Administration," Beuys began in earnest
his attempt to turn Kassel into the echo of a primeval forest.
Beuys ultimately aspired to return the city to the perceived purity of a
German mythical past, a mythology that was latent in the very choice of basalt

stones and oak trees as the substance of his "Social Sculpture." Beuys saw his
project as a "cleaning operation," and once compared the appearance of the

chosen crystalline basalt stones to a defunct brand of laundry starch granules.
Fellow artist Otto Miuhl extended the cleaning metaphor to the symbolism of the
oak tree itself: "You rinse the roots-ofWotan, through to Wagner, Hitler and the
crusaders with their oak leaves and diamond filth-out of the branches of this

innocent tree. I already hear the murmur of a new oak wood. .... I admire your

courage for having dug this tree out of the ideological swamp."5i With his

immense triangular pile of basalt stones upon the Friedrichsplatz, Beuys evidently
and aggressively attempted to return the symmetrical Enlightenment plaza to
the craggy chaos of prehistory. More than thirty species of plant life eventually
established themselves among the rocks. Perhaps unwittingly, however, he managed
more successfully to evoke the bombed-out rubble of the very recent past, the
aftermath of the German defeat in World War II and Kassel's recent ruin. The

citizens of Kassel again reacted to the work upon the Friedrichsplatz with ire.
During the Documenta, a group of youths from the city of Kassel managed
to alter Beuys's stone pile so that it entered a quite different "ideological swamp,"
evoking a much more specific recent past. Under the cover of darkness, the triangular mound was painted hot pink by the unidentified vandals. Beuys's mythic
image of prehistory had been transformed into a monumental pink triangle, with

all of this symbol's connections to the Nazi persecution of homosexuals and

recent political movements of liberation. Beuys was not amused; he had the rocks
power-hosed clean on the day of the discovery of this transformation. Since this
event, vandalism has often plagued the 7000 Oaks project; many young saplings
have been periodically put to the axe.16
Evidently ignoring the then recent criticism of Benjamin Buchloh-"[Beuys]
is very aware of public relations and marketing strategies.... [Y]ou simply cannot
perform the role of savior at the same time as you are operating within a highly

calculated economic system"17-Beuys publicized the project of his Social

Sculpture as a possible method of salvation not only for Kassel but for the entire
globe. "A transformation of important extent is going to be introduced," Beuys
15. From a letter of support included in the project's promotional package, cited in Richard Flood,
"Wagner's Head," Artforum (September 1982), p. 69.

16. A recent report disclosed that by the spring of 1996, 269 trees and 324 basalt stones were
missing from Kassel. See Bernd Burg and Elena Granda Alonso, "Baume pflanzen allein geniigt
nicht: Gutachten zum Pflegezustand der 7000 Eichen" (1996), unpublished manuscript cited in
Rhea Th6nges-Stringaris, "Out of Sight at Close Range: On the Difficulties of Dealing with 7000
Oaks," documenta documents 3 (Ostfildern: Cantz Verlag, 1997), p. 23.

17. See the conversation between Benjamin Buchloh, Rosalind Krauss, and Annette Michelson,

'"Joseph Beuys at the Guggenheim," October 12 (Spring 1980), p. 16.

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Above: View of vandalized treesfrom 7000 Oaks.
1986.

Below: Part of 7000 Oaks across from Dia Center
for the Arts. 22nd Street, New York City. 1997.

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epigone Johannes Stfittgen raved, "compromising the planet in its entirety, rescuing

all life on the way to being ruined nowadays."18 Beuys planned to introduce
variations on the 7000 Oaks project to other cities after Kassel. "We are planting
trees," he promised, "everywhere that the people want to have trees ... and Kassel
is only the beginning. Afterward, it will continue all the way to Siberia."19 This

plan came to a halt with Beuys's sudden death in 1986, shortly before the
completion of the project. In a paradoxical turn of events, Walter De Maria's

project of privation and private property was to have a life after its Documentatwo years later The Broken Kilometer would be exhibited in New York. The "collective"

destiny of Social Sculpture, however, would have no immediate afterlife. Instead,
with the commemorative planting of the last tree by Eva Beuys and Beuys's son
at the opening of Documenta 8, the first and last trees of 7000 Oaks were made to

function as a large-scale memento mori to the one person the project always
managed to mythify anyway: Joseph Beuys alone.

There has been one major extension of the project. Today, more than forty
trees with their basalt stones do grow quietly outside the New York address of the
present Dia Center for the Arts.20
18. Johannes Stfittgen, "Portrait of an Art Performance: Joseph Beuys's 7000 Oaks," trans. Elisabeth
Huhn, Free International University (May 1982), pamphlet, p. 4.
19. Beuys, presentation at Documenta 7 press conference, cited in Siegfried Sander, "Wandeln im
Schatten," 7000 Eichen Joseph Beuys (Cologne: Walter K6nig, 1987), p. 147. Translation by Christian
Philipp Mfiller.

20. What are De Maria's and Beuys's pieces doing in New York City? How do they function there?
Have De Maria's permanent installations in SoHo been changed by the transformations of this urban
neighborhood since the 1970s? (Once isolated, these works are now surrounded by, indeed part of,
this subsection of the spreading commodity circus.) What are Beuys's trees doing in and for Chelsea?

In 1988, Dia planted the first five trees in front of its West Twenty-Second Street address. In September
1995, however, Dia received an additional shipment of basalt stones from a former assistant of Joseph
Beuys. By 1996, approximately thirty-eight more trees and basalt stones were erected in the area; at
least two preexisting trees were simply transformed into "Beuys" sculptures through the addition of

basalt stones. The planting project was funded through a collaboration between Dia, the City of New
York Parks and Recreation Department, the New York Tree Trust, and the Arthur Ross Foundation
(information obtained from a Dia press release dated April 19, 1996, and through two phone conversations with officials from Dia Center for the Arts, May 5, 1997, andJuly 17, 1997). This extension has thus

coincided with the recent gentrification of the neighborhood. (While at this date none of the Chelsea
galleries have contributed to the plantings, one of the area real estate developers, Savanah Partners,
has done so.) Does the transformation of the urban space again transform the meaning, the function, and the existence of these "eternal" sculptures? Or, conversely, far from escaping the aesthetic
realm, do the new "Beuys" sculptures further the transformation of Chelsea into a new art enclave?
Dia chairman Charles Wright made the latter instrumentalization of the piece more than explicit in
his public pronouncements on the project: through its involvement in this extension of 7000 Oaks, he
has said, "Dia will continue to be one of the leaders in developing the Chelsea area as a new cultural
center" (Dia press release, April 19, 1996). In New York, the dialectics of the two projects seem to have
been reversed, a reversal enacted less by the sculptures than by their interactions with urban space: the
Broken Kilometer veers away from the aesthetic toward the "social" (through the commodification of
SoHo), and Beuys's oak trees ensconce themselves ever more firmly within the transformed aesthetic

sphere of the city.

This entire situation raises the question of the historical and contemporary impossibility of a
certain conception of the site-specific. Miwon Kwon addresses the paradoxical development that today
many supposedly site-specific works from the 1960s and 1970s are being reconstructed for new sites

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8. A Dialectical Image

With The Vertical Earth Kilometer and the key trees from 7000 Oaks squarely
facing each other upon the Friedrichsplatz, it is as if the internal history of the
Documenta exhibitions has concretized what Walter Benjamin called a "dialectical
image," an idea he clarified as "dialectics at a standstill."21 For the projects of

Beuys and De Maria seem to represent-to almost ludicrous extremes-the two
poles between which art in the twentieth century has always oscillated, the
irreconcilable "torn halves" that the entire avant-garde project of the twentieth
century has not yet been able to bridge: the aesthetic and the social spheres, or,
put differently, art that defines itself as a pure aesthetic construct and avant-garde

projects that aim at pure social effectivity.22 This has always been the problem of
the avant-garde; the irreconcilability of the polarization seems to have reached a
crux during the 1960s and 1970s, and artists today find themselves (willingly or
not) suspended to the smallest degree between the social and aesthetic aspects of
their work.

On the surface, The Vertical Earth Kilometer and 7000 Oaks could not seem
more different from each other. In the extremity of their opposition, however, the

historical linkages-true dialectical connections-between the two projects
become increasingly apparent. Materially, De Maria's sculpture identifies itself
with industry, being made of metal, a solid brass rod; Beuys (a)voids the industrial,
opting instead for organic and natural materials, concretizing his sculpture in

wood and stone. De Maria embraces the kilometer as a principle of abstract
quantification, aligning his work with the whole tradition of abstraction and
empiricism in the art of the twentieth century. Beuys, too, engages a seemingly

arbitrary system of quantification (7,000 trees), but, in doing so, winds up very far

from any conception of the abstract, presenting instead concrete "images," indeed
"symbols," of a mythic past. Here, a process of quantification is used not to enter
the realm of the abstract but to enact a qualitative alteration upon the very site of

during the process of their museum acculturation. See Kwon, "One Place After Another," pp. 96-100.
This situation points to a long repressed yet constitutive impossibility built into the very realization
of key site-specific works in their original historical situation: a situation made possible by a fully
globalizing economy and a new global art market (truly an "art world"). One of the Kassel projects
was completely financed by a New York art institution; the other was funded in large part by this

same institution, including funds from a global array of (art) sources and institutions. Financed
from New York, both "site-specific" works ultimately-and in different ways-have returned there:

one now visible and in fragments, the transformed Broken Kilometer, the other more evidently a logo
for the only site that seems to count in this situation-the originary source of artistic capital.

21. See Walter Benjamin, "Re the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress," Konvolut N of the

Passagen-Werk, in Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith, trans. Leigh Hafrey and
Richard Sieburth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 49.

22. Purity is of the essence here. We remind the reader of De Maria's description of the various

Earth Room projects he constructed before and after the Kilometer: "Pure Dirt, Pure Earth, Pure Land.

No Object on it. No Object in it. No Markings on it. No Markings in it. Nothing Growing on it.

Nothing Growing in it" (cited in Kellein, WalterDe Maria, p. 79).

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modern abstraction, the urban space of the city.23 Beuys's symbolic model of
meaning production in its extreme primitivism lies far indeed from the ambivalent, seemingly unmotivated gesture of De Maria.
The paradoxical oppositions of the two works become even more extreme
when one begins to consider their relationships to prevailing modes of production.

In addition to industrial materials, De Maria completely embraced the most
extreme-and extremely visible-industrial paradigm possible for the construction
of his sculpture: The Vertical Earth Kilometer imported the spectacle of the rigging
and drilling tower into the urban sphere as a celebration of what De Maria wrote
about as "meaningless work" in the days when he was strongly influenced by John
Cage. Paradoxically, however, this investment in industrial production culminated
in an object of extreme abstraction and literal invisibility; the spectacle of production
fully sealed itself off from the public, climaxing in an image of privation, an image

of "absence, might, and anonymity," as one critic described De Maria's work, the
infamous Kassel Hole-the popular title given to the work by the people of the
city.24 On the other hand, Beuys's project could not distance itself further from
any traces of an industrial mode of production; fully retreating from the industrial,

indeed from the modern, 7000 Oaks comes to reside in the organic and the
primitive, a sculpture of oak trees and crystalline basalt stones, erected not by a
drilling tower but by men with shovels. Again paradoxically, this retreat from
industrial production has as its ultimate purpose a claim to reconnect with "life,"
with the participation of the public and the reintegration of the art object into
the public sphere and everyday life. A dialectical movement has taken place: one
sculpture embraces the industrial in order to retreat from the social into the
aesthetic; the other retreats from the industrial in order to embrace the social

and negate the aesthetic. Such are the paradoxes of the twentieth century's evident
inability to reconcile art and life.

Both works are, in different ways, about "invisibility," taking again opposite
positions in relation to the celebrated "dematerialization" of the object of art that
became the operative condition of artistic production during the years preceding

23. Beuys did speak about the parameters of his choice of the number 7,000: "I think that [7,000]
is a kind of proportion and dimension, firstly because the seven represents a very old rule for planting
trees. You know that from already existing places and towns. In America there is a very big town called

Seven Oaks, also in England at Sevenoaks. You see that seven as a number is organically, in a way,
related to such an enterprise and it matches also the Seventh Documenta. I said that seven trees is a
very small ornament. Seventy is not bringing us to the idea of what I call in German "ferwaldung." It
suggests making the world a big forest, making towns and environments, forest-like. 70 would not
signify the idea, 700 again was still not enough. So I felt 7,000 was something I could do in the present
time for which I could take the responsibility to fulfill as a first step. So 7,000 oaks will be a very strong

visible result in 300 years. So you can see the dimension of time" (Demarco, "Conversations with

Artists," p. 46).
24. While not referring specifically to the Vertical Earth Kilometer, Franz Meyer describes much of De

Maria's work as the presentation of images of "absence, might, and anonymity" in Walter De Maria
(Frankfurt: Museum ffir Moderne Kunst, 1991).

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Installation of section of The Vertical Earth
Kilometer. 1977. (Photo: Dieter Schwerdtle.)

Documenta 6. De Maria's spectacle of public drilling results in an "invisible" work,
the buried kilometer-an entity available to its viewers only on the level of an
abstract "concept." Beuys's project, too, engaged with dematerialization; here, the
process of withdrawing basalt stones from the Friedrichsplatz enacted a supposedly
collective procedure wherein the work would retreat from the artistic (Beuys's
construction within the plaza) into a purely social realm. The "dematerialization"
of much "conceptual" art had two predictable outcomes: one strain increasingly
abandoned the material for the realm of the idealist concept, a rarefied realm

evidently ever more purely aestheticist; the other believed that it could, in
dissolving the material, sublate the artistic sphere altogether-in an ominous
aestheticizing of the social.

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View ofThe Vertical Earth Kilometer
and section of 7000 Oaks. 1994.
(Photo: Dieter Schwerdtle.)

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Are not both projects, however, procedures of mythification, even mystifica-

tion, that would see their creators transformed into heroes, towering godlike over
the depression of banality that is Kassel? Such was their presentation and support
by Dia, conduit of creativity and self-proclaimed patron of the godlike, and such
seems to be the destiny of Beuys and De Maria within the historical frames of

Documenta and of the contemporary art world. Two towering achievements
reside in the Friedrichsplatz that were both realized by evidently attaching
themselves more solidly to the ground-one buried in the earth, almost funereal
in its eternal seclusion; the other rooted in the soil, a memento mori in "super
time." The ground seems to have shifted, however; today the urban space of the
Friedrichsplatz "moves on."

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On Christian Philipp Miller's A Balancing Act

-George Baker

In a room constructed specifically for him within the Fridericianum-a
request met only begrudgingly by the Documenta curatorial team as David was
attempting to bypass all individual subdivisions of the exhibition space-Christian

Philipp Miller has presented a type of "exhibition within an exhibition." In
documentary form, much of the research presented in this essay has been displayed

upon the walls of this room, along with documentary and historical photographs
of the two sculptures. One could easily interpret this intervention as a retreat. For
one, it seems a precise inversion of one of the key moments when incipient tactics

of "institutional critique" were articulated at a Documenta exhibition: Daniel
Buren's "exhibition of an exhibition" performed at Documenta 5 in 1972.25
Along the lines of Miwon Kwon's recent insight, Miiller's activity for this
Documenta distances itself both from the "aesthetics of administration" of early

Conceptual art and from simply reiterating the tactics of early institutional critique.
The work seems to reside more in the realm of an "administration of aesthetics,"

as Miiller engages in researching, curating, archival investigations, and critical
writing, as much as, or even more than, object production.26 However, he does
engage in a framing action not entirely dissimilar to Buren's attempts to foreground

the curatorial devices of Documenta 5. Miiller's tactics have been transformed
and his practice orients itself to Documenta's history, to its current existence as a
historical institution, as much as to its contemporary realization in Documenta X

(Miller almost seems to double, in a secondary elaboration, Catherine David's

own orientation toward Documenta's past as an institution). What must be realized,
however, are the ways in which Miiller's varied activities (in this case primarily
performance, sculptural production, and didactic curation) are not simply arbitrary

choices: in light of the archival orientation of Documenta X's curation, they

engage with a certain level of historical and institutional necessity, even objective
determination.

25. Daniel Buren, "Exposition d'une exposition," Documenta 5, exhibition catalogue, reprinted in
Daniel Buren: Les Ecrits (1965-1990), Tome 1: 1965-76 (Bordeaux: Mus6e d'art contemporain, 1991),
pp. 261-62. Translated as the concluding section of Ren6 Denizot's "Exposition of an exhibition: a
backward look at Documenta 5," Studio International 185, no. 953 (March 1973), pp. 98-99; and "A
serious exhibition: a backward look at Documenta 5 II," Studio International 185, no. 954 (April 1973),
pp. 151-52. The concise precision of Buren's text and installation only makes the recent attempt of
Johannes Stfittgen to appropriate the logic of Buren's action as a potential reading of Beuys's 7000
Oaks that much more ludicrous: "Only once did this work [ 7000 Oaks] bask in the light of the
Documenta as other works do-at the Documenta 7 where, significantly, not the sculpture itself but
merely its preliminary form actually existed. Since then, on the contrary, the Documenta has basked in
the light of this work. It is a reversal, an inversion, of the relationship between the whole and one of its
parts" (Stfittgen, 'Joseph Beuys' Sculpture 7000 Oaks and the Documenta," documenta documents 3, p. 21).

26. See Kwon, "One Place After Another," p. 103. Kwon's dialectical reversal is of Benjamin

Buchloh's descriptor for Conceptual artistic strategies; see his "Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the

Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions," October 55 (Winter 1991), pp. 105-43.

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A

Balancing

Act

115

The installation also exists as a retreat in a more literal sense than in its

seeming reference to Buren: as in his recent commission to contemplate the situation

of public sculpture in the city of Hamburg, Miiller presents no public work. In
Hamburg, instead of another problematic urban sculpture, Miuller constructed a
complex exhibition in the Kunstverein for the city, an exhibition that traced and
critiqued the history of a specific component of Hamburg's extensive public art
project, measuring the knowledge and desire of the public for the so-called Art
Mile that the city is currently in the midst of marketing and constructing.27 Such a

project emerges from a very specific reading of avant-garde practices stemming
from Duchamp: any full account of Duchamp's readymades would have to contemplate the extent to which the objects, indeed fetishes, produced (and then

lost) in Duchamp's practice were entirely secondary to their insertion into a

discursive context. Overall, the relevance of Miuller's exhibitions seems to exist on

a similar level: they are not primarily object-based but are discourse-specific, even
discourse generating.
Here, at the Documenta, Miiller retreats into the museum itself, occupying a
space within it that frames a vista back onto the Friedrichsplatz. A space is thus
provided for contemplation of the current state of the urban space, the skewed
Vertical Earth Kilometer, and Beuys's oak trees-a space resolutely within the frame
of the museum, one that attempts to provide a contemplative distance from which
to regard the recent and seemingly irreconcilable difficulties that plague the

attempt to create a truly public art, to leave the frame of the museum, to
bridge the gap between the aesthetic and the social spheres.28 In this space,

the primary documents on view include a series relating to a brief history of
the Friedrichsplatz, and documents relevant to the funding of the two sculptures
are displayed as well. Finally, Mfiller has positioned within the room a six-meter-

long balancing rod upon a sculptural base, a balancing bar constructed half in
brass, half in oak (loosely pastiching De Maria's modes of display and his specific
work The Beginning and End of Infinity [1987]).29 The placement of this sculpture
punctuates the vista's continuation into the room within the museum.
27. See Christian Philipp Mfiller, Kunst auf Schritt und Tritt, Public Art Is Everywhere (Hamburg:
Kellner Verlag, 1997). This volume also includes texts by Doug Ashford, Miwon Kwon, and others from
a symposium organized by Mfiller around the issues raised by a public art program begun in 1981 by
the Kulturbeh6rde Hamburg entitled "Kunst im 6ffentlichen Raum" (Art in Public Space).

28. The vista thus provided needs to be considered contextually. Due to the archival conditions

necessary for the presentation of much of the older works in the Documenta, the exterior windows of
the Fridericianum have for the most part been blocked off to control all light sources. In this context,
Miiller's piercing of the frame of the museum (a wall had to be removed to provide Muiller's space with
a previously covered window) becomes that much more programmatic of a connection of the museum
to its immediate urban, public space. In addition to opening a visual vista onto the Friedrichsplatz,
Miuller also arranged for the window to be literally open during the installation.
29. It is an appropriation with some very key material differences, however. Mfiller's piece measures
only two inches in diameter (a measurement determined by the Vertical Earth Kilometer). De Maria's
The Beginning and End of Infinity was constructed from fifty connected pieces, each fifty centimeters
long and fifteen centimeters in diameter. The sculpture ultimately weighed four tons; Miiller's weighs
approximately sixteen pounds.

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Christian Philipp Miller. A Balancing Act. 1997.

Below: Installation view. (Photo: Dieter Schwerdtle.)
Right: Performance in the Friedrichsplatz.

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At the apex of this vista, Mfiller has embedded a video screen within the wall

of the Fridericianum. Here, a video plays, showing a performance recorded

before the opening of Documenta X. Along the lines of his previous projections
of himself as a Dutch king, a backpacking tourist, a Charlie Chaplin-like figure,
and (most recently) Jacques Tati, in this performance Mfiller identifies himself
with a specific tightrope walker named Philippe Petit. In the video, it becomes
immediately evident that Mfiller's "sculpture" is also an object of (a certain) use.

Outside of the Fridericianum's frame, it evidently has a specific function, a
function presented to the viewer as if in a dreamlike past tense, recorded on
video, made part of a performance intentionally unavailable to the Documenta
visitors, belied by the rod's reification into an immobile, abstract object within the
museum. Balancing bar in hand, Mfiller precariously and repeatedly walks the
distance between the 7000 Oaks and The Vertical Earth Kilometer. With neither the

financial support of a foundation nor the market value of Beuys or De Maria,
Mfiller presents an allegorical image, resurrecting the form of one of the most
debased vestiges of bourgeois entertainment, the residue of an outmoded, by now
quaint spectacle in comparison to the spectacular panorama of the contemporary
Documenta: the circus performer, a figure of immense attraction for the early
twentieth-century avant-garde for its already apparent decrepitude. Between

the towering mythic presences of Beuys and De Maria, Mfiller unabashedly
plays the fool to attract the viewer's attention. (One is reminded of Guy
Debord's love for the film Les enfants du paradis, with its outmoded world of

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A

Balancing

Act

117

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theatrical festivals and mimes, an attraction that took hold of Debord at the

same time as he was elaborating the most advanced critique of modern spectacle
culture that has as yet been performed.) The performance presents a paradoxical
spectacle, however; for while Muller used the Documenta publicity to advertise
the event to the public and to the media as a tightrope-walking performance, the
ultimate result remains entirely antispectacular within the trappings of and
arrangement for spectacle. With the tightrope laid out directly upon the ground
of the Friedrichsplatz, Muller does not walk in the air at all. Slowly, methodically,
he does nothing but use the performance to trace a very specific line between
the two sculptures. While Beuys intentionally did not position his tree in a set
relationship to the De Maria, Mfiller's emphatic connection of the two serves to
underline the fact that the new symmetrical design of the square in its turn
completely ignores the two art works.so0

Philippe Petit, however, is not a historical figure. He is a living French
30. The image of Miiller walking between these two site-specific works needs to be compared to
Ren&e Green's recent videos and photographs documenting her own investigation of the ruins of
Robert Smithson's Partially Buried Woodshed. Green's insertion of her own history into the specific
circumstances of this art-historical cipher-one of the main strategies of her recent installation
Partially Buried (1996)-could itself be productively compared to a little-known exhibition by Miller
from 1992, entitled "Forgotten Future," where in various ways Miller programmatically combined
details from his personal life and exhibition history with Le Corbusier's Ville Radieuse proposals and
spectacular postwar architectural production. See Christian Philipp Mfiller, Vergessene Zukunft
(Munich: Kunstverein Miinchen and Edition Artelier, 1992).

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118

OCTOBER

tightrope walker who-on August 8, 1974-managed to tightrope walk between
the two immense towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. After much

surreptitious planning and without any prior publicity, Petit performed his
precarious act, completely stopping traffic and bringing the commercial bustle
of New York momentarily to a standstill.31 For his effort, Petit was arrested as a
criminal.

Before being apprehended by the police, Petit managed to cross between
the two Twin Towers a total of seven times upon a thin wire cable. The only thing
he had to hold onto during this entire time was his six-meter-long balancing bar.

31. The distance walked by Petit between the World Trade Center Towers measured 39.9 meters;
the distance Mfiller traces between Beuys and De Maria, 32.18 meters.

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