Kassel, 6 June 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA).
The organisers of Documenta (13) have revealed the list of exhibitors as well as the exhibition spaces to be used for this year’s edition of the fair. The news came during a press conference on 6 June.
The press conference also saw the first performance piece of Documenta (13), consisting of artist Ceal Floyer biting his nails for five minutes. Over recent months, Documenta’s organisers have been keeping the details surrounding the art festival’s 13th edition under wraps. However, a disagreement between organiser Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and artist Stephan Balkenhol did make the front pages of newspapers in Germany. In conjunction with his exhibition in Kassel, Balkenhol had erected a statue of a human figure at the top of the St Elisabeth church in the centre of the city. Christov-Bakargiev felt that the statue was an attack against her faith, and called for the church to remove it. As the artist stated in an interview with art das Kunstmagazin, she had also threatened to postpone his exhibition by three months. Neither postponed nor taken down, the statue remains on the tower. According to the artist “the fact that [Christov-Bakargiev] is the director of Documenta does not give her the right to restrict or control the other art events being organised by other institutions in Kassel. For me, art is an incarnation of liberty and dialogue, and that is part of what Documenta is about”. Putting an end to the dispute, Christov-Bakargiev suggested that the artist visit her exhibition, in her company. The artist stated that he would accept, and would like to take the opportunity to speak with Christoc-Bakargiev about art, not about the “vanity of power”.
At the press conference that took place at the Kassel Kongress Palais on 6 June, the director revealed some elements of the event that will begin on Saturday 9 June. Christov-Bakargiev revealed, for example, the exact locations where the event will be taking place, unveiling that this year the event is not taking place in only one town, or even in one country. There will be exhibitions in the Afghan capital of Kabul, in Cairo in Egypt, and in the Banff national park in the Canadian state of Alberta. In the city of Kassel, 30 venues will be participating in the event, principal among which are the Fridericianum, the Documenta Halle, and the Neue Galerie. Other venues set to host events as part of the fair include scientific and historical institutions such as the Ottoneum and the Orangerie, as well as more “bourgeois” locales, such as the Ständehaus, a complex comprising a trainstation, park, and cinema that has been in a state of neglect since the 1950s. Previous to this press conference, Documenta’s organisers had only revealed to the public that this year’s edition would involve events at “some places outside of Kassel, to be revealed on 6 June”. No-one predicted that these placed would be Egypt, Canada, and Afghanistan. Never before has Documenta taken place over so many venues within Kassel or abroad.
The list of participants, which up until now had been kept secret, was also revealed. As the director puts it, not all participants are necessarily artists, and not all their works are necessarily works of art. The list comprises some 300 names, including more than 150 artists from 55 different countries, but also artists that have passed away, non-artists, and exhibition curators. Several biologists and physicists , as well as late artists such as Salvador Dali, also figure on the list of participants. Among some of the big names we can find such figures as Rosemarie Trockel, who presented Haus für Schweine und Menschen (“House for pigs and people“) at Documenta in 1997, and South-African painter and cinematographic artist William-Kentridge, to whom Christov-Bakargiev has chosen to dedicate a solo exhibition.
Since 1955, Documenta has showcased new trends in contemporary art every five years. Also known in German as “Weltkunstschau” (“Global art show”), Documenta is widely considered the most significant contemporary art show in the world. With a duration of exactly one hundred days, it is also one of the longest such events in the world, along with the Sydney, Venice and Sao Paulo biennials, amongst others. The first edition of the event, in 1955, was organised by designer and professor Arnold Bode, and took place in one venue: the Fridericianum. From 1968, Documenta began to rapidly develop, with each edition seeing the post of artistic director being offered to a different art world figure, guaranteeing a frequent change of approach. This year, Documenta has taken “Destruction and Reconstruction” as a central theme, paying particular attention to the idea of reconstructing something from fragments. When walking through the city, Christov-Bakargiev found that she was astonished by the scale of destruction caused by the Second World War in Kassel, which gave her the idea for the theme. As the frankfurter Allgemeine reported on 6 June, the director expects around 750,000 people to visit this year’s event, which will be opened on 9 June in a ceremony to be attended by German President Joachim Gauckse. It will close on 16 September 2012.
As well as paintings, Documenta also looks at nature and animals. As die Zeit reported on 5 June, Christov-Bakargiev wishes to show how man, who sees himself as the centre of the world, exploits and subdues animals and plants. Biologist and theologian Kristina Buch’s butterfly garden – where visitors can see caterpillars in their cuccoons, demonstrates this, and also ascribes to the theme of reconstruction.
One of the projects taking place at the Karlseaue park is entitled “A Writer’s Residency”. Throughout the summer, visitors to the Dschingis Khan restaurant (situated in the park) will be able to find eight poets, fiction writers, and essayists. Playing with the idea of creating a private space for fiction in a public place, the project provides a glimpse into the everyday life of writers. The eight writers participating in the project are nott going to do anything out of the ordinary for this project, just their everyday work. That is to say, writing.
Documenta also provides the occasion for the telling of stories, such as that of the “Apfelpfarrer” (“The apple pastor”), Korbinian Aigner (1885-1966). A pastor when the Nazis were in power, Aigner criticized the regime in his sermons, and was consequently sent to the Dachau concentration camp. There, he cultivated a new variety of apple which he then went on to sketch over several years. Documenta is displaying his pictures of apples in a large hall, and a sapling of the variety of apples that he developed has been planted in the park.
Another unusual project is that of photographer Lee Miller (1907- 1997). In 1945, the American artist worked as war correspondent in Munich, where she stayed for several days in Hitler’s apartment in the centre of the city. On the day of the dictator’s suicide, she was taking a bath in his bathroom, taking photos of herself. Documenta is exhibiting this series of photos, along with other “souvenirs”, such as a serviette carrying the Fuhrer’s initials, and a powder compact belonging to one of his companions that Miller found in the apartment.
Documenta has organised exhibitions to take place in Egypt, Canada, and Afghanistan, as well as seminars and conferences, with Kabul hosting an exhibition and programme dedicated to cinema.
As demonstrated by her dispute with Stephan Balkenhol, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is a passionate lady, who is also known for her sometimes combative nature. According the German newspaper die Zeit, those that know her describe her as narcissistic and paranoid. She is vilified by many of her colleagues, with some of them referring to her as “the mini-Moubarak of Kassel”. German art magazine art das Kunstmagazin have dubbed her “Madame Maybe” because of the secrecy which she has kept Documenta shrouded in. Her interviews and long conferences have also been cause for question. In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung she advocated voting rights for dogs. Her concept of art is similarly idiosyncratic: “one mystery of art is that you don’t know what it is until it no longer is what it was”.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has been working as an exhibition curator and writer for several years, and has lived in Rome, Turin, and New York. She has organised exhibitions in various countries, serving, for example, as co-curator at the Villa Médicis in Rome from 1998 to 2000 and curator at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York from 1999 to 2001. From 2002 to 2008 she was head curator at the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, where she also served as interim director in 2009. She also participated in the organisation of the first Turin triennial in 2005, and was artistic director of the 16th edition of the Sydney biennial in 2008. As an author, she has published several works looking at the works of artists such as South African William Kentridge and Canadian Janet Cardiff.
The controversy stirred up over the past few weeks will without a doubt stay with Christov-Bakargiev for some time to come. During the opening press conference on 6 June, a group of artists organised a protest in front of the Kongress Palais, according to the Frankerfurter Rundschau. The artists accused the event’s director of having censured other artistic events in the city, citing her dispute with Stephan Balkenhol. Christov-Bakargiev’s actions had also resulted in the cancellation of an exhibition of works by Gregor Schneider that was due to take place at the Kassel evangelical church. Artist Sigling Kallnbach also participated in the demonstration, describing the director’s behaviour as shameful. She told the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung that “Kassel is big enough for art. Documenta should accept other events taking place alongside it”. Christov-Bakargiev has denied having used her influence to cancel this exhibition.