The UB Post
Mongolia at documenta
For most people living in today’s modern day society, monetary profit and gain is what motivates and drives us. For contemporary artists, while monetary profit is important, more emphasis is placed on having their work recognized by international and local peers and enthusiasts.
While the path to recognition vary for every artist, there are certain platforms and exhibitions that have a high success rate of propelling them into international recognition. One such exhibition, and lauded as one of the biggest platforms for art and culture in the art world, is documenta.
Documenta is an exhibition of contemporary art, which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. It was founded in 1955 by Arnold Bode, a Kassel painter and academy professor who endeavored to bring Germany back into dialogue with the rest of the world after the end of World War II and to connect the international art scene through a “presentation of 20th century art”.
The name of the exhibition itself is indicative of Bode’s own artistic vision. Even though documenta is an invented word, the term is supposed to demonstrate the intention of every exhibition to be a documentation of modern art. It also takes root from the Latin worlds “docere” (to teach) and “mens” (intellect).
The first documenta exhibition in 1955 featured a retrospective of works from major movements such as Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, the Blaue Reiter Futurism and many more, and showcased the works of many brilliant individuals, the likes of Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Hans Arp, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky and Henry Moore, whose works would go on to achieve unprecedented fame in the contemporary art field.
Since it’s inception, the exhibition cycles of documenta or the “museum of 100 days” has acted as both a survey and forum for contemporary art, as well as a seismograph of developments in contemporary arts.
The exhibition is immensely successful, current, avant-garde and stresses quality. For example, each documenta exhibition typically gives artists participating in the event at least two years to conceive and produce their projects, which result in often elaborate and intellectually complex pieces. The exhibition also maintains the tendency of not publicizing the artists before the very opening of the exhibition, creating a sense of anticipation and excitement.
With tremendous budgets, which boast salaries of 100,000 EUR a year for the artistic director and recorded budgets of 37 million EUR for documenta 14, testaments to its quality and reputation.
Each documenta has played a leading role in taking the international discourse about art in new directions. The discourse and the dynamics of the discussion surrounding documenta exhibitions reflect and challenge societal expectations of art.
And while documenta exhibitions do act as a forum for current trends in contemporary art and a place where innovative and standard-setting exhibition concepts are trialed, they are in essence a platform to promote artists and celebrate their work.
Documenta exhibitions are historic in their own rights, but this year’s documenta 14, held from April 8 to July 16 in Athens, Greece and from June 10 to September 17 in Kassel, Germany, is especially historic in regards to Mongolian art and culture as three Mongolian artists and six Mongolian works of art are currently being featured.
Considering that when famed and international artists who have showcased their works at documenta are asked for the highlights of their career they usually reply participating in documenta, the participation of Mongolian artists and art in documenta 14 is reason alone for pride.
But the three artists, Nomin Bold, Tserenpil Ariuntugs and Sharav Balduu went beyond participation and instead achieved a significant amount of success.
Nomin Bold (1982), known for her subtle yet vibrant colors, meticulous drawing, and somewhat mysterious subject matter, featured two works titled “Green Palace” and “One Day in Mongolia”. She has thus far been internationally recognized by those such as Klaus Bisenbach, the director of MOMA who even went on to feature Nomin and her work on his personal social media platforms, with one post reading, “Belongs to a new generation of Mongol zurag artists who were trained as the country transformed into a democratic governance and a market economy. Nomin’s work brings in a blend of traditional motifs and modern elements that raise the meaning of process in how Mongolian tradition is shaped in the global world today.”
Further testament to her success includes her work being bought by a prominent Swedish art collector.
Ariuntugs Tserenpil (1977), known for exploring prevalent and thought provoking themes and questions such as “helplessness when watching how human beings destroy nature to satisfy their ever-increasing consumption” and his own personal uninhibited and expressive creative process, exhibited his multimedia pieces “Unnamable Space #6” and “Act”.
The participation of the contemporary artists was organized by the Mongolian Contemporary Artists Support Association (MCASA) and their director B.Gantuya, who was financially supported by the Goethe Institute.
The third Mongolian Artist who had their work featured in documenta14, but posthumously, was “Marzan” Sharav Balduu (1869-1939). Sharav is often lauded for his displays of individual style, personal vision, exceptional technique and a synthesis of artistic influences in his work. Sharav employs a deft combination of classical and realistic styles; his subject matter and his works are known for their portrayal of social life and the conditions of 19th century Mongolia from historical, ethnographic and religious perspectives. A true testament of history that has eluded the scarce material documentation that existed at the time.
Sources and oral histories claim that the Bogd Khaan (1870-1923), the reincarnate theocratic political and religious head of Mongolia, commissioned the famous artist Sharav to paint scenes that were representative and depict life in Mongolia during the first years of the Bogd Khaan’s theocratic rule over Mongolia.
Sharav painted numerous paintings, which are now considered emblematic of the Urga School of painting – a style of Mongolian painting credited to the late 19th and early 20th centuries that sought to preserve the traditional elements of folk paintings and was characterized by narrative compositions with straight forward and colorful depictions of events free from religious subject material, while often infused with parody and exaggeration.
Two such Sharav paintings, “One Day in Mongolia” and “Winter Palace” are both displayed at documenta 14. Both paintings are frequently reproduced icons of national identity and are images of rural life that continues today only outside Mongolia’s sedentary urban centers, and are registered as Priceless Mongolian Items of Historical and Cultural Value.
“One Day in Mongolia”, part of the permanent collection of the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, features landscapes from the Khangai mountains to the Gobi Desert, the nomadic lifestyle and a range of ceremonies and rites are vividly depicted. It features prolific scenes such as a wedding processional where a daughter-in-law is welcomed by her new family, a woman giving birth, a funeral and the interment of the deceased in a remote place. All aspects of the cycle of life.
“Winter Palace”, part of the permanent collection at the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum of Mongolia, depicts the Bogd Khaan’s winter palace as an important center for agriculture and trade. The painting is regarded by scholars who research the historical period of Bogd Khaan’s Mongolia as a priceless source that captures contemporary life in the context of the period.
The participation of Sharav’s works in documenta was organized and overseen by the Ministry of Education Culture, Science and Sports, the Culture and Art Implementing Agency of the Government of Mongolia, the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, and the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum.
Nomin and Sharav’s respective works “One day in Mongolia”, “Winter Palace” and “Green Palace” were displayed to showcase current contemporary art and contemporary art in the 20th century.
The exhibition’s opening ceremony was attended by G.Erdenebat, the chairman of the Culture and Art Implementing Agency, curators and registrars from the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, the Zanabazar Fine Arts Musuem, and various scholars and noted names in the field of Mongolian art. The exhibition itself had press coverage of over 3,000 journalists. If the first documenta received around 130,000 visitors, documenta 14 is estimated to receive over a million perspective visitors.
In regards to the artistic pursuit of achieving recognition, Abraham Lincoln once said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”
During this year’s documenta 14, Mongolian artists Nomin, Ariuntugs and Sharav successfully did both.