Undoubtedly one of the largest and most high-profile international contemporary art happenings in Europe and the world, documenta is - along with Venice Biennale - a Mecca for global art. On one hand it offers high stakes in terms of recognition and monetary reward for the participating artists and curators, on the other very interesting content for art lovers, scholars, theoreticians, and writers. Like any other subjective experience, a documenta visit is based on a personal perception; so in what follows I will relay my impressions about the show in Kassel.
Entrance to the city. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Marta Minujín , Parthenon of Books. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
First of all, I believe that despite all the criticism the 14th edition of the quinquennial has received (the fact that it has been shared between two locations - Kassel and Athens - the lack of a clear message and the fact that the artistic director put his partner, choreographer and artist Alexandra Bachzetsis, in the show, etc.), this year’s documenta was a success, at least in terms of the number of visitors. Huge queues at the entrance to the venues, crowded halls once you got in, the town itself, documenta Stadt (documenta city) after all, felt almost too small. With its complex layout, even without taking into account the Greek counterpart of the mega-exhibition, a whole week wouldn’t have been enough to really see everything. But let's not forget that the popularity of documenta also comes along with a lot of responsibility, since the show is perceived as the supreme court of artistic acknowledgment and is partly financed by public funds. Moreover, given the fact that in the years preceding the big opening a lot had happened politically and socio-economically, generating situations usually dividing the public into conflictual groups (Brexit, the refugee crisis in Europe or the financial crisis in Greece), the curatorial task represented a sizable challenge, having to deal with all these controversial aspects influencing ultimately also the status quo of the arts.
Marta Minujín , Parthenon of Books. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Guillermo Galindo, Fluchtzieleuropahavarieschallkörper. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Dan Peterman: Kassel Ingot Project (Iron). Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Hence, documenta14 had unfolded across the town of Kassel in over 30 venues, some of them having only one room dedicated to it, like the Westpavillon (Orangerie) or Grimmwelt Kassel, and some of them comprising somewhat unexpected locations, like the Former Underground Train Station or the Museum für Sepulkralkultur, which is entirely dedicated to the culture of death. The most prominent venues were of course the central ones: Fredericianum, documenta Halle, Neue Galerie, and Palais Bellevue, but also the less central Neue Neue Gallerie (Neue Hauptpost) featured an impressive line-up of remarkable names: Mexican artist Ulises Carrión, Colombian artist Beatriz González, American artist Dan Peterman, Thai artist Arin Rungjang, or the Norwegian-Sami artist Máret Ánne Sara to name just a few.
Entrance to the venue, Fridericianum. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Queue at the Neue Galerie. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Besides the venues themselves, there were also a lot of interventions in the public space, such as the smoke installation ‘Expiration Movement’ by the Romanian artist Daniel Knorr, the steel construction clad with books ‘Parthenon of Books’ by the Argentinian artist Marta Minujín, the banners installation ‘Wir (alle) sind das Volk / We (all) are the people’ by the German-born artist Hans Haacke - all three located at the Friedrichsplatz - and the obelisk ‘Monument for strangers and refugees’ by the Nigerian-born American artist Olu Oguibe, located at the Königsplatz. The Karlsaue park, the Nordstadtpark and the Weinberg Terraces from Grimmwelt were home to further open air exhibits. ‘Ideas of Stone’ by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone (commissioned for the documenta 13) and ‘Man Walking to the Sky’ by the American artist Jonathan Borofsky (commissioned for the documenta 9), two of the interventions from previous editions - one located in the Karlsaue park, and the other in front of the Former Underground Train Station - still remained on view.
Daniel Knorr, Expiration Movement. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Hans Haacke, Wir (alle) sind das Volk. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Giuseppe Penone, Ideas Stone. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Jonathan Borofsky, Man Walking to the Sky. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Michel Auder, Nikhil Chopra, iQhiya, Zafos Xagoraris, Former Underground Train Station. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
The strong and plentiful Public Programs (which should not be considered separate from the exhibition and educational program, as we are encouraged on the website) curated by the Spanish philosopher Paul B. Preciado, were cunningly called ‘The Parliament of Bodies’, which, according to artistic director Adam Szymczyk, wasn’t meant to be a representation of an actual parliament of bodies, but was instead meant to be constituted by the present attendees.
Subtle curatorial decisions like placing the Parliament of Bodies in a building where there had in fact existed in 1810 a parliament (the first parliamentary building in Germany, that of the Kingdom of Westphalia ruled by Jérôme Bonaparte), screening the film installation ‘Commensal’ by Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (whose protagonist engaged in acts of cannibalism) at the Tofufabrik, or the suggestion to begin the documenta visit from the Former Underground Train Station as a starting point were indeed catchy.
The fine web of documenta 14 across multiple venues was clearly highlighted by a real infrastructure of maps, signs across the city and directions on the website. Likewise, the texts provided on the website, in the Daybook, and in the Reader were informative enough for everyone to understand the reasoning behind specific curatorial choices. Given the dimensions and the stakes of this mega-exhibition, I’m sure debates and writings around the subject will follow, but this will surely only increase the curiosity regarding the next edition.
Under the motto, or working title ‘Learning from Athens’, documenta 14 took place this year in Athens between April 8 – July 16 and in Kassel between June 10 – September 17 and attracted more than 850.000 visitors in Kassel alone.
Former underground train station. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Sails by Bia Davou. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Untitled by Yiannis Bouteas. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Agim Çavdarbasha, Women of Prishtina. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’ Sápmi. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Vlassis Caniaris, Hopscotch. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Aboubakar Fofana, Fundi (Uprising). Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
Romuald Karmakar, The Emergence of the West–From Beginnings in Antiquity to the Fall of Contantinopel. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana
documenta 14, April 8–September 17, 2017, in Athens and Kassel
Text and photos by Ana-Daniela Sultana
Ana-Daniela Sultana is a freelance curator born in Bucharest during the last decade of Communism, currently living and working in Bucharest and Vienna. She holds a MA in ecm - educating/curating/managing from the University of Applied Arts Vienna and is the co-founder of the MODELiER venue in Bucharest and the [ˈfæbrɪk] transdisciplinary organization in Vienna. Collaborating with creative communities and cultural institutions, her aim is to promote new or lesser known artists and their endeavours.