World exhibition for contemporary art in Kassel: d14
documenta 14: Overwhelming and overcharging
Foto: box
Series of works: Pile o’ Sápmi by Máret Ánne Sara features the reindeer slaughter of the Norwegian government. Foto: box
Series of works: Pile o’ Sápmi by Máret Ánne Sara features the reindeer slaughter of the Norwegian government.

:bsz international. The world’s most important exhibition of contemporary art has opened its gates for its fourteenth season: documenta (d14). Director Adam Szymczyk aimed to rethink the role of institutions whilst expanding the presence from Kassel to Athens.

“documenta 14 is an exercise in fragility, one which wants to learn from Athens today”, is how the Artistic Director described the concept behind d14. 

Documenta’s history goes far back to the year 1955, when art professor and designer Arnold Bode initiated the first season, originally planned as an accompanying event to the “Bundesgartenschau”. As this exhibition series prospered, it became cultural and historical part of the city of Kassel. Every five years the city gleams of artistic interventions at different venues throughout the whole place. For the purposes of documenta not only shall art lovers from all over the world be attracted to visit Kassel, but the role of art, the city and artistic interactions on a globalized market are to be questioned by this temporary exhibition. While every documenta is limited to a range of 100 days (often referred to as the ‘museum of 100 days’), the d14 is taking place in both Kassel and Athens during intersecting periods: First in Athens from the 8th of April until the 16th of July (already closed), now in Kassel from the 10th of June until the 17th of September 2017. 

Connecting past and presence

While “Learning from Athens” sounds like an ambitious aim, the concept pursues the idea of international correspondence on topics like colonialisation, imperialism, suppression of minorities, and so on. The iconic “Parthenon of Books” by Marta Minujín, for example, towers in the centre of Kassel, the historical Friedrichsplatz. Not only the sculpture but the exhibition venue itself draws long shadows: On the 19th of May 1933 the Nazis burned around 2,000 books at this particular place. The nearby “Fridericianum” caught fire during an air raid of the allied forces in 1941. The building was used as a library, resulting in another loss of 350,000 books. Now the artist raises a project, building an original-sized Parthenon, consisting of 100,000 books that were or are prohibited – with the help of Kassel’s citizens and guests. 

Teach me, master.

The guides are no “qualified” art historians, the information flyer is overcharging, there is no (official) comprehensive publication but a reader and a daybook and the venues and exhibits are poorly explained by signs, seeming like temporary solutions – but they are not. Director Adam Szymczyk wanted to rethink the role of institutions and curating itself, which he did. The exhibition appears to be a concept itself: The tours are proclaimed as “walks” and the guides are called choirmasters who are to direct the interchange of experiences and views. But reality interferes: Many visitors feel overwhelmed but also overcharged. The meta-construction of this exhibition is not conveyed to everyone. The thematised topics are not revolutionary or innovative, which does not make them any less important. But some of the exhibits transport a message ostentatiously or pretentiously, lecturing the visitor from above, whilst the direction should be: Learning with and not from art.

Still: documenta 14 brings together extraordinary pieces of art and evokes dialogue and progression not only in the sphere of art but also beyond. The decision of taking place in two cities will make this season unique, leaving one question behind: Will this concept carry on?

:Marcus Boxler