Three Questions For Felix Vogel


Since October 2021, all professorships at the documenta Institute have been appointed. With Mi You, Felix Vogel and Liliana Gómez, scholars came to Kassel who have been bringing their respective backgrounds, ideas and perspectives to the documenta Institute since then. With the series "Three questions to..." we would like to give a first impression of this. Heinz Bude asked the professors the following questions: How did you take notice of your professorship? What background do you have? And where do you want to go? In this episode, Felix Vogel is answering these questions.


HB: Mr Vogel, do you remember which newspaper made you aware of the job advertisement?

FV: I probably read it in the mailing list H-ArtHist. I was interested due to several points about the vacancy: The simultaneous research and teaching at the Department of Architecture and Art Academy, the focus on exhibitions beyond curatorial studies, and last but not least, the denomination of art and knowledge as a connection that describes my previous research between the history of art, architecture, and knowledge. Moreover, this was the unlikely opportunity to be in the fortunate position of inventing my own field and a whole new institute....

HB: ... or unfortunate position...

FV: ... or even that. But in any case, it's more exciting than working with an institution with fixed boundaries. Especially if, like me, you're a bit caught between various subjects: doing a PhD on horticultural art in the 18th century, research on conceptual art, on the meta-history of curating.... These are all topics that can be combined at the interface of the architecture department, the Kunsthochschule and the documenta Institute in a way that is hardly possible anywhere else.

HB: Basically, you've already said a bit about the perspective, the starting point from which you approach things. Perhaps you could tell us a few more sentences about that?

FV: My dissertation deals with the Hameau de la Reine that was commissioned by Marie-Antoinette in the 1780s. This is a so-called ferme ornée, i.e. an "ornamental farm", as they were built in numerous (aristocratic) gardens in the second half of the 18th century. In relation to the documenta Institute, this may seem a bit strange, but there are at least two points that can be connected here: On the one hand, fundamental problems of modernity emerge in the concept of the garden complex: Authenticity and naturalness, history and originality, subjectification. On the other hand, it actually also has something to do with questions of exhibiting due to architecture being primarily determined by its show value. Additionally, the people present on-site can be understood as "exhibited bodies," as we only know them from the World's Fairs almost a hundred years later.

In addition, I have always been concerned with contemporary art and exhibitions. A major project deals with the artist group Art & Language from the 1960s until today. It deals, among other things, with the theoretical nature of art, with the idea of art as a political practice, and finally with questions of translating concepts into exhibitions.

You could say that in terms of the history and theory of the exhibition, I am interested in supposedly minor issues: For instance, the examination of displays, especially mobile display systems, which have their function in enabling and therefore often take a back seat. My problematization of "curatorial discourse" is also a topic that opens up a meta-level of exhibition history. The guiding question here is how curator:s write about exhibition history and what liabilities this creates - for curatorial studies, among others. In short, it has to do with a critique of models of curatorial authorship. Another project, which is only at the beginning, is also concerned with processes that are often behind the scenes: In it, I devote myself to the infrastructures of exhibiting, starting with logistics, through loan contracts... in other words, art handling, to the concrete (mostly collective) construction of exhibitions.

HB: Where are you heading?

FV: Staying here in Kassel and seizing the great opportunity of helping to shape the documenta Institute. Ultimately, this ties in directly on a practical level with what has already occupied me theoretically: The decentering of authorship in exhibitions - away from curators and towards other actors who often remain invisible. With the documenta archive, we have an enormously important collection from which the genesis of what we call "the curatorial" today can be reconstructed - at the same time, of course, always with a view beyond Kassel and the documenta. Ultimately, this also means that it is perhaps less about the exhibition than about the exhibiting itself. In other words, a cultural technique that is much older than the documenta and also older than the Paris Salon, which emerged at the end of the 17th century and is often seen as the starting point for the (modern) art exhibition. What would then have to be investigated are not only exhibitions themselves, but practices that also have an "expository character." From spolia to menageries to shopping malls.

It always sounds self-evident that building something new is something great. But it's also a big challenge on many levels. Because both in academia and in the art world, we are at a point right now where rigorous self-criticism of institutions is necessary and is also being carried out in many places - be it in terms of power relations and hierarchies, of a problematic history, of structural racism, and so on. With the documenta Institute, we are in a position to initiate such reflection from the very beginning and to implement it in the structure.