What Was Lost: Manifesta 7 and the Soul of Modernity

November 2008

Stefano Graziani, The Museum for Franco Basaglia, 2008. Photos © Wolfgang Träger.

Following on from the faddishness surrounding the critical uses and abuses of the term ‘postmodern’ in the 1980s and 1990s, a singular and somewhat disconcerting question came to light, one less involved with the apparent ‘post’ of modernity as it was with finding out whether we were indeed modern or, perhaps more gnomically, whether we were even premodern. A significant part of this project found purchase by enquiring into that which modernity had elided along the way, namely, the disavowed alter-modernities that consistently threatened to usurp any univocal global claim to postmodernity. It was with these and other issues in mind that Manifesta 7, with a firm eye on the so-called ‘residues’ of modernity, set out its latest curatorial stall. Taking place over four different locations, all in the shadow of the South Tyrol Dolomites in Northern Italy, and employing three curatorial teams (made up, in turn, of six curators), Manifesta 7 included over 200 artists and collaborators, not to mention 100 off-site projects. It was, in fine, ambitious. Travelling north to south, the first venue on the itinerary was Fortezza, an impressive fort which is also known locally as Franzensfeste, the latter being its original Austrian name. Since its completion in 1838, the only forces to have breached its defences are a road, two railway lines and a motorway. There is certainly a moral to be had in this tale and the curators, all three groups in this instance, set out to exploit it: a fort that had never been overrun subsequently becoming a white elephant of sorts and eventually a venue for an international exhibition of contemporary art – that had to be worth a curatorial gambit or two. However, and despite the size and the uniqueness of the location and its legacy, this section of Manifesta, entitled ‘Scenarios’, was the least interesting, and not only because there was so little to actually see.

For the full text please click for the pdf.


Downey, Anthony. “What was Lost: Manifesta 7 and the Soul of Modernity.” Third Text 22.6, 2008: 787-790.