Heir Unapparent: Gregory Williams on Roger M. Buergel

By Williams, Gregory | Artforum International, February 2004 | Go to article overview

Heir Unapparent: Gregory Williams on Roger M. Buergel


Williams, Gregory, Artforum International


AMID ALL THE FRENZIED speculation surrounding the selection of the next Documenta curator, Roger M. Buergel probably didn't top many lists of potential candidates. Although known and respected throughout much of the German-speaking art world, he only began to organize relatively sizable exhibitions within the past four years. Moderate recognition in the United States came in late 2002, when the Menil Collection in Houston named Buergel the first recipient of its Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement. Yet his lack of renown in the States, coupled with the award's newness, made it a little-remarked event. Still, with Catherine David on the Menil jury, close observers may have noticed the stars aligning in Buergel's favor. The endorsement of a former Documenta curator was just one of several factors ultimately recommending Buergel for the director's post.

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Born in 1962 in Berlin but long based in Vienna, Buergel studied painting, philosophy, and economics, worked as a private secretary to Actionist Hermann Nitsch, and has taught visual theory for the past three years at the Universitat Luneburg in Germany. This mixture of scholarly and studio-based work makes him a model successor to David and Okwui Enwezor, not straying too far from their theoretical bent while simultaneously signaling a break. If the two previous Documentas were frequently criticized for placing too little emphasis on optical stimulation. Buergel has already raised hope in certain quarters by claiming that aesthetic reflection will be one of his key priorities. He has been quoted in the press as saying that it is a mistake to consider art "a repair business for removing misery and injustice from the world." As the German critic and art historian Sabeth Buchmann puts it, Buergel is expected to present "less political discourse in exchange for art with a capital A."

Buchmann's prediction is music to the ears of many who felt that the pleasure factor was sorely lacking in 1997 and 2002, but Buergel's track record indicates that he is not likely to give prominence to more traditionally "sensual" media such as painting. He has organized several significant exhibitions since 2000, each of which would actually seem to place him more firmly in the camp of David and Enwezor than in that of a Rudi Fuchs, whose 1982 Documenta 7 championed painterly expressionism and a romantic conception of art's autonomy. Buergel, too, is deeply concerned with the question of artistic autonomy, as evidenced by his frequent writings and statements on the subject, yet his approach to the issue differs dramatically from Fuchs's idealist position. In reference to his 2000 exhibition "Dinge, die wir nicht verstehen" (Things We Don't Understand) at Vienna's Generali Foundation, Buergel remarks, "We conceived of aesthetic autonomy as an effect on the spectator rather than being a property of the artwork. …

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