Yesterday on Studio 360, host

Yesterday on Studio 360, host Kurt Andersen lamented on the lack of risk-taking and originality in “art and entertainment,” and he tarred the television networks, Hollywood, and the artists at Documenta with the same brush. [Listen to his commentary here; it’s the 7/13/02 show.] While I’m a fan of both Studio 360 and Andersen, I can’t help but think he’s wrong, at least about Documenta. (He gets full credit on the other two fish in the barrel, though.)
On questions of “staggeringly similar” of art in the exhibit (“serious, photo-journalistic, documentary”) the curators should be identified (either credited or blamed, depending on your POV) as a moving force. Even if Alan Sekula’s photographs grow tiresome after the tenth gallery or so (which it does), the show cannot be dismissed as “grim, unchallenging images full of conventional horrors and the standard villains,” as Andersen tries to do. He despairs, I despaired. As I’ve posted before, Documenta certainly wasn’t the feelgood show of the year. There was a lot to be depressed about. Or to be moved by. Documenta had plenty, including work and ideas that were both challenging and beautiful.
Andersen yearns for the reemergence of the “contrarian genius, dreamers of odball beauty”-style artists, who he imagines are the true “risktakers” of our culture. But having been heavily involved (and invested) in the contemporary art world all through the last economic boom, I’d have to say Andersen may be the dreamer; the “art establishment” has been plenty safe, corporate- and collector-friendly for a loong time.