documenta 7, in Kassel (1982), curated by Rudi Fuchs, has occasioned multiple readings. However, the most common readings in Spain concur in asserting that it denoted an international phenomenon confirming the triumph of painting and the art market opposite other artistic manifestations such as Arte Povera and Conceptual Art, relegated to simple junctures of the past. A thesis that would shape the evolution of art across the decade, but one which, viewed within the framework of the period, can also be questioned.
In his introductory text in the exhibition catalogue, Rudi Fuchs refused to give the show a title after deciding against The Drunken Boat, alluding to Arthur Rimbaud’s poem Le bateau ivre and in reference to the drifting art that was wandering aimlessly, outside of “style wars”.
Although paintings from the Italian transavantgarde or new German Expressionism visibly held more sway inside the exhibition, they were also joined by diverse manifestations. Italian Arte Povera, North American Post-Minimalism and conceptual artists such as Marcel Broodthaers were conspicuous in their presence. Works by creators that investigated performance from different languages, for instance Martha Rosler, Joseph Beuys and Franz Erhard Walther, also engaged in dialogue with the works, while video art also had a unique, and by no means unrecognised, representative in North American artist Dara Birnbaum, who participated with her PM Magazine (1982) installation. Beyond being simply a success story for painting, the show can be analysed as an extolment of eclecticism, with the absence of hegemony ultimately translating into “anything goes”, interpreted by part of historiography as a shift towards conservative values, where the absence of history and critique and the recovery of artistic individualism would correspond to the social and political reality dominated by the Reagan-Thatcher era from the so-called New Right.
In Kassel, a mix of genres, styles and generations of artists rubbed shoulders, setting a trend towards a certain lyrical or “romantic” vision which, at that time in Spain was personified by a young Miquel Barceló, the only Spaniard selected by Fuchs. Along with other painters from different generations, Barceló would spearhead a relentless process of development in the art market in new democratic Spain, where the “long march towards institutions” embraced the officialism which would finally replace the social struggles against Francoism. Within this context, the creation and promotion of the ARCO Art Fair and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the exhibition policy of Carmen Giménez as director of the Centro Nacional de Exposiciones, and the creation of the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a project for which Rudi Fuchs was called in as advisor, configured large swathes of the artistic landscape in 1980s Spain.