,, What can artists of a country, which wages such a criminal war as that in Vietnam, do other than make minimal-art? “That is an appalling question with the biggest possible accusation as its starting point: that art based on simple abstract forms, one means, with its sensitive jabbering about form, color and space, does not touch on any side the tremendous problems we face today; it evades them and cherishes the aesthetic pleasure of the establishment.
This is the protest that a number of artists in Kassel throw at the exhibitors, organizers and visitors in bright placards and red posters, with which they fill old Volkswagens to park them outside the gates of the Fridericianum and the Galerie Schonen Aussicht. They refer to their anti-Documenta exhibition, which incidentally did not take place, but otherwise would undoubtedly have displayed something like social realism. And they quote the strongly committed playwright Bertolt Brecht, who reproached the artists of “abstract” directions for having become servants of the ruling powers: ,,I see that you have banished recognizable motifs from your works; you depict the curved lines of a chair, but not the chair itself; the red of the sky, but not the burning house. You do not portray the wrath of certain injustices, nor experiences that can improve or change the world, but only very general, vague, unmentionable feelings that everyone can experience, the thieves and the robbed, the oppressors and the oppressed.”…..
This is indeed a key question, which lingers even if one has already gone through the many paintings, sculptures, prints, objects and ambientes” of the Schonen Aussicht Gallery as a colorful spectacle about today’s world. In a previous contribution I called the fourth Documenta a newsreel about the hassle of us humans. But this recording character of visual art is experienced most strongly with the new figurative artists, with neo-realism and pop-art. There a social critique sometimes breaks through in the sense that Brecht means. What about the social significance of minimal art, i.e. the spatial objects of Americans like Morris, Judd, Blade or André; or the monochrome or at least very elementary color-form paintings of Newman, Stella or Ad Reinhardt. For if these works make us experience a “certain poetry” then little has happened, and I can imagine that the aforementioned artists would make Braque’s word their own if it stopped there: namely, that if art were no more than the pleasant arrangement of forms, it would not pay to spend an hour on it. Just as with American minimal art, the difficult question of social meaning arises with the subtle white plastic plastiques of the Dutch Manders, or with the paper structure reliefs of Schoonhoven. With the latter I sometimes think of the noise, which is music, in today’s serial compositions; but with most conscious composers there is a similar uneasiness about the uselessness of their activities, so that Pieter Schat – and this most committed composer in Europe – almost desperately exclaimed that the music always remained just music.”
“SARCASM OF PIETER ENGELS
It is a pity that Morris in Kassel was not able to carry out his plan to make an earth sculpture: ,, an annular dyke in grassland “, which will hardly be noticed. Yet I believe that the leap to a social meaning of minimal art can be made. And that its meaning could well be more intense and far-reaching than the ironic moralizing of pop art. The attitude of the other Dutch exhibitor in Kassel, Pieter Engels, for example, is related to the latter phenomenon. But perhaps more the scepticism and sarcasm launched from his jest organization at the hullabaloo of the art world, than the best of his objects themselves. The latter also have significance as an awareness of space, time and size and especially of our conventional handling of expensive utilitarian things ( think of his ‘, poorly constructed canvases’.).”
Ton Frenken 1968.
IN KASSEL PING-PONG GAME WITH ADMISSIBILITY
But the most exemplary of our compatriots for the theme of the whole is Pieter Engels. This Documenta, in fact, with no more than 1000, partly large and not very structured works by 150 artists, is at the same time easier and more difficult to absorb than the previous one. An entire room, for example, is filled with one-block black plastic by Bladen (an exhibitor at the Minimal Art exhibition in The Hague). That’s more quickly viewed than a roomful of prints, but perhaps not as readily processed. These things play a game of ping-pong with our receptivity. One has to be constantly aware of what one sees and also examine why the exhibitor does precisely that. He pings, you ping… or nothing happens. Well, Engels exhibits for example a ,, Modern Landscape” , which consists of nothing at all in a wide frame. At the bottom one can still see the message, No sky, no waves”. And furthermore, on one side of the frame there is a handle, plus a notice board that says: Only for carrying “. So we don’t need to look for an ulterior motive behind this. Another work is a canvas in a frame that has fallen apart halfway. ”Bad constructed canvas” is the name of the thing. Here one can no longer escape the fact that this is indeed not a performance but a thing. During the exhibition, which runs until October 6, a “Besucherschule” is held, something like the educational service of a museum. Engels gives the explainers nice starting points for the whole thing.”
Dolf Welling, July 13, 1968, Rotterdam News Agency.
DOCUMENTA FAIR OF ALIENATION
“Everything in Kassel revolves around the newest, around experimentation. And as varied as all that may seem at first glance, all in all it is actually much less fascinating than one expects. The overall impression is: dry, cold, cool. And when there are occasional jokes, they are necessary and often incredibly infantile. The way in which ‘the’ modern art is illuminated here is in fact very one-sided. It is mainly the most extreme ( or cool) expressions that are shown. Among the six Dutchmen are Daan van Golden and Pieter Engels, two charlatans of the purest kind. One of Golden’s highlights: reel of tape recorder, decorated with a few strips of colored tape in a frame drawn on the wall and Engels’ is a very well made, but otherwise empty frame, which has its advantages.”
G. Cross, Trouw 1968