documenta 14

Just came back from Germany, where I’ve finally managed to see documenta 14 in Kassel with my very own eyes. Through my Greek classmate, I have been listening a lot about the Athens’ edition and was very curious how Adam Szymczyk, the Artistic Director, transported the concept to another country.

documenta happens every five years in Kassel and this year’s concept was having no concept at all. Well, sort of. The ideas focused on humanity in general: immigration, history, race, gender, displacement, war, politics, oppression, debt, xenophoby, homophoby, ethnicity, … Everything regarding contemporary humanity, we could say.

This edition was shared between Kassel and Athens, ‘a city with intertwined crises of finance and migration, and the capital of a country whose recent relations with Germany have been anything but collaborative … The use and abuse of Classical antiquity, born in Greece and routed through Germany, therefore hums through documenta 14’ (Farago, 2017). I am not the one to talk about comparisons, as I have only seen one venue/country. However, the connection is very much visible and perceptible.

Let’s just take the most prominent example:

Marta Minujín The Parthenon of Books, 2017 (A collection of prohibited books from all over the world.)

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As tacky as I thought it would be, it actually pleasantly surprised me. Its position in the middle of the main square brought together art enthusiasts, tourists and every other human being in between (and dogs). An artwork, being used as an art statement, as well as a meeting and resting ground for passers by. How awesome is that.

documenta 14 was spread out around many many venues. I was a bit sceptical how much would I actually be able to see in the two days I’ve had for strolling around. And I can safely say I saw the majority of the venues, so I got the good insight on what is going on.

And speaking of that, I was quite disappointed by the main venues, however the smaller ones were impressive. First of all, there was a lack of really visual works, a greater number was conceptual. And this is where I think they went wrong a bit.

Eventhough Szymczyk’s minimalism was working on some points, there was a huge shortfall of context around the artworks (I am not even talking about the whole documenta 14 concept …). Loads of the works needed at least a bit of contextualizing inside the gallery space (for those who didn’t buy the thick catalogue), which is not present. Therefore, audience can easily lose out on the artworks, because of not knowing the background of presented subjects or the artist itself. Just some artworks had a bit of a text beside them, which brings me to the next question on how they decided which works will get the text and which won’t.

Being on the subject of minimalism, I was appalled by the captions (yes, this is my weak spot). I can’t even believe they literally just put normal printed A4 pieces of paper on the wall. Which were flapping around and were already wrinkled. And the typos were corrected by hand?? It looked completely unprofessional and inconsistent, not just through various venues, but also through the same building. Minimalism yes or no, I don’t think such an infamous exhibition can afford this.

Moving on, what I loved was the documenta signs all over town, so you couldn’t really get lost. Because of being spread all around Kassel, not just the main centre, it could potentially be a big annoyance. But they did good, kudos for that.

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Going back to the main venues (Documenta Halle, Neue Galerie, Fridericianum, Neue Neue Galerie), you couldn’t really make sense of the concept. The exhibits were not truly connected, I felt there were just general topics put together in the same space. However, you could see the broad themes throughout every venue. And I was quite surprised by the choice of the artworks that were opening the humanity themes for the most part, though never really posing real questions or answering anything. Sometimes it could feel a bit too much ‘in your face’ and maybe fruitless because of that?

If I mention other ‘smaller’ venues now (Giesshaus, Gottschalk-Halle, Stadtmuseum, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Ehemaliger Unterirdischer Bahnhof, …), they are definitely worth a visit. I enjoyed how the artworks were incorporated in these existing museums/venues and how they reflected the building. For example, Stadtmuseum, which is dedicated to the city, had the artworks regarding urbanity, citizenship and war. In addition, you were able to visit other permanent exhibitions in the museum, which helped the visitor to understand documenta 14 even more. The same goes for Naturkundemuseum im Ottoneum, where the artworks dealt with land and rurality.

Coincidently, these two venues featured 2 of my favourites:

Regina José Galindo The Objective, 2017 (Performance, activated by members of the public in purpose-built chamber with four G36 assault rifles. You were invited to stand in the middle of the room, while visitors were aiming at you with the rifles. I won’t even start talking about how uneasy it was. Actually on both sides of the rifle. Almost a life-changing experience.)

Khvay Samnang Preah Kunlong, 2017 (A video piece that made me feel really relaxed, eventhough it was touching upon environmental and geopolitical threats of Cambodia’s Indigenous Chong people. It’s poetical way of presenting the topic really charmed me.)

And there was one more piece of work that I fully enjoyed. It was positioned in the vaults under the Fridericianum, so it is easily missed:

Ben Russell Good Luck, 2017 (Video installation that looked like it was made exactly for the venue. In conversation with the miners of Serbia and Suriname. 140 minutes long I haven’t seen the whole thing (who has the time, right), however it really touched me. Maybe also because I understood the language and immediately felt closer to home and started projecting my feelings into it.)

And if you have time, do not miss Irena Haiduk‘s performance at Neue Neue Galerie.

Oh, and a video by Bill Viola The Raft (2004) in Fridericianum is worth it.

There are many more artworks worth mentioning, don’t worry. This is just a narrow selection. I was actually angry at myself on how picky I’ve become. It takes a really good artwork (conceptually and visually) to please me. And I was very surprised that I mostly chose the videos as my favourites, as I am known to not being a moving image fan. Go figure.

All in all, documenta 14 is a place for every art enthusiast and especially art professional, considering it is showing art’s current relevance and the direction the artworld is going.

This is but a short piece of my initial thoughts and feelings on documenta 14. There is so much more to be discussed and I can’t wait to get the catalogue in my hands. More to come.

 

REFERENCES:
Farago, J. (2017) Documenta 14, a German Art Show’s Greek Revival. The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/09/arts/design/documenta-14-a-german-art-shows-greek-revival.html?ref=oembed (Accessed: 17 July 2017).

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