Experience documenta history.
Visit the artworks in three Parcours.
Public space in Kassel differs from that of other cities by virtue of the presence of outstanding outdoor objects from past documenta exhibitions. The exhibition series has made programmatic use of its urban environment through the step-by-step occupation of new settings. Every documenta since 1977 has featured site-specific works of art conceived as interventions into or commentaries on their urban context. In search of opportunities for greater social impact, art reacts to an increasing extent to its socially defined environment as a means of gaining new credibility beyond the boundaries of the exhibition context.
Although all outdoor objects were originally planned as temporary exhibits, sixteen prominent installations have been permanently preserved: gifts or purchases of objects from documenta 6 (1977), 7 (1982), 9 (1992), 10 (1997), and 13 (2012). Whether or not such works remain in place is not determined by a systematic acquisition policy, but depends instead on popular engagement and the commitment of artists and sponsors. Thus the works are subject to different ownership and custodianship arrangements. The outdoor documenta objects differ not only in size and material composition but with respect to their artistic intentions as well. In any event, however, they represent important stages in the history of the world art exhibition and serve as examples of contemporary artistic approaches to urban and rural space at specific points in time.
Given their public impact, these installations are a constant focus of public interest. Their creation and acquisition are always subject to critical commentary by local citizens. Their often controversial responses also reflect the changing arguments advanced in the discussion on art in public space.
In 1955, the Kassel painter and designer Arnold Bode organized an extensive survey exhibition of 20th-century European art at the Museum Fridericianum – the first documenta. Ten years after the end of the Second World War, the event was closely associated with objectives of national importance, including, among others, the rehabilitation of artists formerly defamed as degenerate and the restoration of Germany’s status as a nation of culture. The sensational success of the first documenta paved the way for a second edition four years later, a show that made an active contribution to the ongoing debate on abstract art.
Initially presented every four years and later at intervals of five years, documenta has since evolved into the world’s most important series of exhibitions devoted to contemporary art. As a medium for information about recent trends in the international art scene, it has, over the course of its history, documented and attempted to assess every phase in the development of Western – and later global – approaches to an understanding of art. In addition to the current status of artistic production, each documenta also reflects the state of the theoretical discourse on art. And with its scenographic inventions at the various venues, it has set standards for the methods employed in the presentation of art.
Common to all editions is the fundamental self-concept of an institution devoted to the objective documentation of contemporary art. Its exclusive position as a world art exhibition is based on its role as an authority. Its unique characteristic is its consistent aim of defining a canon of contemporary culture.
Apart from that, every documenta must reinvent itself in both organizational and conceptual terms. That task has been entrusted to a series of different artistic directors since 1972. Each artistic director is appointed by an international commission. The exhibition director is guaranteed absolute artistic freedom and receives organizational support from a limited liability, non-profit company.
Having gradually abandoned its claim to objectivity, documenta has now become forum for discussion of globally relevant social issues as manifested in diverse modes of presentation on the basis of individual concepts.