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Coordinates: 51°18′49″N 9°29′51″E / 51.31361°N 9.49750°E / 51.31361; 9.49750
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The Fridericianum during documenta (13)

Documenta (often stylized documenta) is an exhibition of contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany.

Documenta was founded by artist, teacher and curator Arnold Bode in 1955 as part of the Bundesgartenschau (Federal Horticultural Show) which took place in Kassel at that time.[1] It was an attempt to bring Germany up to speed with modern art, both banishing and repressing the cultural darkness of Nazism.[2] This first Documenta featured many artists who are generally considered to have had a significant influence on modern art (such as Picasso and Kandinsky). The more recent editions of the event feature artists based across the world, but much of the art is site-specific.

Every Documenta is limited to 100 days of exhibition, which is why it is often referred to as the "museum of 100 days".[3] Documenta is not a selling exhibition.



Documenta, an invented word, reflects the intention of the exhibition (in particular of the first Documenta in 1955) to be a documentation of modern art which was not available for the German public during the Nazi era. Rumour spread from those close to Arnold Bode that it was relevant for the coinage of the term that the Latin word documentum could be separated into docere 'teach' and mens 'intellect', and therefore thought it to be a good word to describe the intention and the demand of Documenta.[4]

Each edition of Documenta has commissioned its own visual identity, most of which have conformed to the typographic style of solely using lowercase letters, which originated at the Bauhaus.[5]


Stadtverwaldung by Joseph Beuys, oaktree in front of the museum Fridericianum, documenta 7

Art professor and designer Arnold Bode from Kassel was the initiator of the first Documenta. Originally planned as a secondary event to accompany the Bundesgartenschau, this attracted more than 130,000 visitors in 1955. The exhibition centred less on "contemporary art"—that is, art made after 1945—instead, Bode wanted to show the public works which had been known as "Entartete Kunst" in Germany during the Nazi era: Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Blauer Reiter, Futurism and Pittura Metafisica. Therefore, abstract art, in particular the abstract paintings of the 1920s and 1930s, was the focus of interest in this exhibition.

Over time, the focus shifted to contemporary art. At first, the show was limited to works from Europe, but soon covered works by artists from the Americas, Africa and Asia. 4. documenta, the first ever to turn a profit, featured a selection of pop art, minimal art and kinetic art.[6] Adopting the theme of Questioning Reality – Pictorial Worlds Today, the 1972 Documenta radically redefined what could be considered art by featuring minimal and conceptual art, marking a turning point in the public acceptance of those styles.[7] Also, it devoted a large section to the work of Adolf Wolfli, the great Swiss outsider, then unknown. Joseph Beuys performed repeatedly under the auspices of his utopian Organization for Direct Democracy.[8] Additionally, the 1987 Documenta show signaled another important shift with the elevation of design to the realm of art – showing an openness to postmodern design.[9] Certain key political dates for wide-reaching social and cultural upheavals, such as 1945, 1968 or 1976/1977, became chronological markers of documenta X (1997), along which art's political, social, cultural and aesthetic exploratory functions were traced.[10] Documenta11 was organized around themes like migration, urbanization and the post-colonial experience,[11] with documentary photography, film and video as well as works from far-flung locales holding the spotlight.[7] In 2012, documenta (13) was described as "ardently feminist, global and multimedia in approach and including works by dead artists and selected bits of ancient art".[2]



Documenta typically gives its artists at least two years to conceive and produce their projects, so the works are often elaborate and intellectually complex.[12] However, the participants are often not publicised before the very opening of the exhibition. At documenta (13), the official list of artists was not released until the day the show opened.[13] Even though curators have often claimed to have gone outside the art market in their selection, participants have always included established artists. In the documenta (13), for example, art critic Jerry Saltz identified more than a third of the artists represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in the show.[13]

Documenta's decision to feature some of its shows outside of Germany, in peripheral contexts has sparked numerous critical discussions that reaches an apogee around documenta14 which partly took place in Athens, Greece in 2017. Various critics raised concerns about the ways in which the institution's endorsement of Athens as a place of resistance and novelty entailed a patronizing Orientalist stance, linked to new forms of tourism and the enjoyment of underdeveloped sites of "crisis".[14]

In 2022, Documenta caused three separate anti-Semitism controversies: one revolving around the banner Peopleʼs Justice (2002) by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi that contained anti-Semitic imagery; another on the inclusion of the Palestinian collective Question of Funding in the exhibition; and, lastly, the inclusion of a 1988 Palestinian liberation movement brochure by Burhan Karkoutly titled Presence des Femmes.[15][16][17] Artist Hito Steyerl pulled her work from the exhibition in protest to the first two instances, with managing director Sabine Schormann's departure as a consequence.[18] In response to the controversy spurred by Presence des Femmes, Documenta released a statement urging the artistic team to remove the drawings until they can be "appropriately contextualized"; scholars from the Archives of Women’s Struggles in Algeria stated: "[Presence des Femmes] was in solidarity by the Algerian women with the Palestinian people, in denouncing the crimes committed by the Israeli State. We would like this document, like many other texts or artworks in the world, to be placed in its historical and political context."[16]

In November 2023, Documenta receives the resignation letter of the remaining curators María Inés Rodríguez, Simon Njami, Gong Yan and Kathrin Rhomberg, after the resignation of Bracha L. Ettinger and Ranjit Hoskote.[19] The letter precises "In the current circumstances we do not believe that there is a space in Germany for an open exchange of ideas and the development of complex and nuanced artistic approaches that documenta artists and curators deserve."[20]



The first four documentas, organized by Arnold Bode, established the exhibition's international credentials. Since the fifth Documenta (1972), a new artistic director has been named for each Documenta exhibition by a committee of experts. Documenta 8 was put together in two years instead of the usual five. The original directors, Edy de Wilde and Harald Szeemann, were unable to get along and stepped down. They were replaced by Manfred Schneckenburger, Edward F. Fry, Wulf Herzogenrath, Armin Zweite and Vittorio Fagone.[21] Coosje van Bruggen helped select artists for documenta 7, the 1982 edition. documenta IX's team of curators consisted of Jan Hoet, Piero Luigi Tazzi, Denys Zacharopoulos and Bart de Baere.[22] For documenta X Catherine David was chosen as the first woman and the first non-German speaker to hold the post. It is also the first and unique time that its website Documenta x was conceived by a curator (swiss curator Simon Lamunière) as a part of the exhibition. The first non-European director was Okwui Enwezor for Documenta11.[23]

The salary for the artistic director of Documenta is around €100,000 a year.[24]

Title Date Director Exhibitors Exhibits Visitors
documenta 16 July – 18 September 1955 Arnold Bode 148 670 130,000
II. documenta 11 July – 11 October 1959 Arnold Bode, Werner Haftmann 338 1770 134,000
documenta III 27 June – 5 October 1964 Arnold Bode, Werner Haftmann 361 1450 200,000
4. documenta 27 June – 6 October 1968 24-strong documenta council 151 1000 220,000
documenta 5 30 June – 8 October 1972 Harald Szeemann 218 820 228,621
documenta 6 24 June – 2 October 1977 Manfred Schneckenburger 622 2700 343,410
documenta 7 19 June – 28 September 1982 Rudi Fuchs 182 1000 378,691
documenta 8 12 June – 20 September 1987 Manfred Schneckenburger 150 600 474,417
documenta IX 12 June – 20 September 1992 Jan Hoet 189 1000 603,456
documenta X 21 June – 28 September 1997 Catherine David 120 700 628,776
documenta11 8 June – 15 September 2002 Okwui Enwezor 118 450 650,924
documenta 12 16 June – 23 September 2007 Roger M. Buergel/Ruth Noack[25] 114 over 500 754,301
documenta (13) 9 June – 16 September 2012 Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev 187[26] 904,992[27]
documenta 14 8 April – 16 July 2017 in Athens, Greece;
10 June – 17 September 2017 in Kassel
Adam Szymczyk more than 160 1500 339,000 in Athens
891,500 in Kassel
documenta fifteen 18 June 2022 – 25 September 2022 in Kassel ruangrupa[28] more than 67[29]

2012's edition was organized around a central node, the trans-Atlantic melding of two distinct individuals who first encountered each other in the "money-soaked deserts of the United Arab Emirates". As an organizing principle it is simultaneously a commentary on the romantic potentials of globalization and also a critique of how digital platforms can complicate or interrogate the nature of such relationships. Curatorial agents refer to the concept as possessing a "fricative potential for productive awkwardness," wherein a twosome is formed for the purposes of future exploration.[30]



Documenta is held in different venues in Kassel. Since 1955, the fixed venue has been the Fridericianum. The documenta-Halle was built in 1992 for documenta IX and now houses some of the exhibitions. Other venues used for Documenta have included the Karlsaue park, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, the Neue Galerie, the Ottoneum and the Kulturzentrum Schlachthof. Though Okwui Enezor notably tried to subvert the euro-centric approach Documenta had taken, he instigated a series of five platforms before the Documenta11 in Vienna, Berlin, New Delhi, St Lucia and Lagos, in an attempt to take Documenta into a new post-colonial, borderless space, from which experimental cultures could emerge. documenta 12 occupied five locations, including the Fridericianum, the Wilhelmshöhe castle park and the specially constructed "Aue-Pavillon", or meadow pavilion, designed by French firm Lacaton et Vassal.[31] At documenta (13) in 2012 about a fifth of the works were unveiled in places like Kabul, Afghanistan and Banff, Canada.[12]

There are also a number of works that are usually presented outside, most notably in Friedrichsplatz, in front of the Fridericianum and the Karlsaue park. To handle the number of artworks at documenta IX, five connected temporary "trailers" in glass and corrugated metal were built in the Karlsaue.[32] For documenta (13), French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal constructed the temporary "Aue-Pavillon" in the park.

View of the Friedrichsplatz with the Fridericianum (2nd Building from the left) and the Documenta ticket booth (right)

Permanent installations

Rahmenbau (1977) by Haus Rucker und Co.

A few of the works exhibited at various documentas remained as purchases in Kassel museums. They include 7000 Eichen by Joseph Beuys; Rahmenbau (1977) by Haus-Rucker-Co; Laserscape Kassel (1977) by Horst H. Baumann; Traumschiff Tante Olga (1977) by Anatol Herzfeld; Vertikaler Erdkilometer by Walter De Maria; Spitzhacke (1982) by Claes Oldenburg; Man walking to the sky (1992) by Jonathan Borofsky; and Fremde (1992) by Thomas Schütte (one part of the sculptures are installed on Rotes Palais at Friedrichsplatz,[33] the other on the roof of the Concert Hall in Lübeck).

Documenta archive


The extensive volume of material that is regularly generated on the occasion of this exhibition prompted Arnold Bode to create an archive in 1961. The heart of the archive’s collection comes from the files and materials of the Documenta organization. A continually expanding video and image archive is also part of the collection as are the independently organized bequests of Arnold Bode and artist Harry Kramer.





In 1992, on the occasion of documenta IX, for the first time in the history of Documenta, more than half a million people traveled to Kassel.[34] The 2002 edition of Documenta attracted 650,000 visitors, more than triple Kassel's population.[35] In 2007, documenta 12 drew 754,000 paying visitors, with more than one-third of the visitors coming from abroad and guests from neighboring Netherlands, France, Belgium and Austria among the most numerous.[36] In 2012, documenta (13) had 904,992 visitors.[27]



In 2007, half of Documenta's budget of 19 million euros ($25.7 million) came from the city of Kassel, the state of Hessen and Germany's Kulturstiftung des Bundes. The rest came from sponsors, donors and ticket sales.[37]

Documenta 14’s budget was at 37 million euros ($40 million), spread between 2013 and 2018;[38] by the end of 2017, its deficit was expected to reach 5.4 million euros.[39] Overspending in Athens led to a liquidity shortfall of 7 million euros, forcing the shareholders of Documenta — the city of Kassel and the German state of Hesse — to step in with emergency loan guarantees worth 8 million euros.[39]


  1. ^ Searle, Adrian (11 June 2012). "Documenta 13: Mysteries in the mountain of mud". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Roberta (14 June 2012). "Art Show as Unruly Organism". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Arnold Bode coined this phrase for the first time in the prologue of the first volume of the catalogue: documenta III. Internationale Ausstellung; Catalogue: Volume 1: Painting and Sculpture; Volume 2: Sketches; Volume 3: Industrial Design, Print; Kassel/Köln 1964; p. XIX
  4. ^ Kimpel, Harald (1997). Documenta: Mythos und Wirklichkeit (in German). Köln: DuMont. ISBN 978-3-7701-4182-1. OL 420383M.
  5. ^ Rawsthorn, Alice (3 June 2012). "A Symbol Is Born". The New York Times.
  6. ^ The documenta IV Exhibition in Kassel (1968) German History in Documents and Images (GHDI).
  7. ^ a b Chang, Helen (22 June 2007). "Catching the Next Wave In Art at Documenta". The Wall Street Journal.
  8. ^ Roberta Smith (7 September 2007), "Documenta 5" The New York Times.
  9. ^ Gimeno-Martinez, Javier; Verlinden, Jasmijn (2010). "From Museum of Decorative Arts to Design Museum: The Case of the Design museum Gent". Design and Culture. 2 (3): 259–283. doi:10.2752/175470710X12789399279796. S2CID 193083412.
  10. ^ dX 1997 Archived 2013-06-14 at the Wayback Machine, documenta XII.
  11. ^ Valentin, Stephan (12 June 2007). "An art show in Kassel, Germany, rivals Venice Biennale". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  12. ^ a b Crow, Kelly (8 June 2012). "A Party, Every Five Years, for 750,000 Guests". WSJ. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  13. ^ a b Saltz, Jerry (15 June 2012). "Jerry Saltz: Eleven Things That Struck, Irked, or Awed Me at Documenta 13". Vulture. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  14. ^ Kalantzis, Konstantinos (2023). "The Indigenous Sublime Rethinking Orientalism and Desire from documenta 14 to Highland Crete". Current Anthropology. doi:10.1086/728171. S2CID 266120123.
  15. ^ Kabir Jhala (18 July 2022), Documenta's director steps down over antisemitism scandal The Art Newspaper.
  16. ^ a b Kate Brown (28 July 2022). "Documenta, Battered by Scandals, Gets Hit With Yet Another Allegation of Antisemitic Imagery in the Show". ART News.
  17. ^ Alex Greenberger (22 July 2022). "Documenta's Anti-Semitism Controversy, Explained: How a German Art Show Became the Year's Most Contentious Exhibition". ART News.
  18. ^ Alex Greenberger (16 July 2022), Documenta Head Is Out Amid Anti-Semitism Controversies and Pressure from German Politicians ARTnews.
  19. ^ "Documenta finding panel resigns out of 'grave concern' for show's future". The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. 17 November 2023. Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  20. ^ "Instagram". www.instagram.com. Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  21. ^ Michael Brenson (15 June 1987), "Documenta 8, Exhibition In West Germany", The New York Times.
  22. ^ Michael Kimmelman (5 July 1992) "At Documenta, It's Survival Of the Loudest", The New York Times.
  23. ^ Jackie Wullschlager (19 May 2012) Vertiginous doubt Financial Times.
  24. ^ Julia Halperin, Gareth Harris (18 July 2014) How much are curators really paid? Archived 20 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine The Art Newspaper.
  25. ^ Holland Cotter (22 June 2007). "Asking Serious Questions in a Very Quiet Voice". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  26. ^ Ulrike Knöfel (8 June 2012). "What the 13th Documenta Wants You to See". Der Spiegel.
  27. ^ a b "904,992 people visit documenta (13) in Kassel". documenta und Museum Fridericianum Veranstaltungs-GmbH. 16 September 2012. Archived from the original on 25 February 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  28. ^ Russeth, Andrew (22 February 2019). "Ruangrupa Artist Collective Picked to Curate Documenta 15". ARTnews.com. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  29. ^ Siddhartha Mitter (24 June 2022), Documenta Was a Whole Vibe. Then a Scandal Killed the Buzz. New York Times.
  30. ^ "In Germany, Disguising Documentary As Art". The Huffington Post. 30 August 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  31. ^ Stephan Valentin (12 June 2007), An art show in Kassel, Germany, rivals Venice Biennale International Herald Tribune.
  32. ^ Roberta Smith (22 June 1992), A Small Show Within an Enormous One The New York Times.
  33. ^ Thomas Siemon (25 June 2015), Wieder aufgebaut: "Die Fremden" sind zurück in Kassel Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine.
  34. ^ d9 1992 Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine, documenta XII.
  35. ^ Searle, Adrian (19 June 2007). "100 days of ineptitude". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  36. ^ Hickley, Catherine (24 September 2007). "Documenta Contemporary Art Show Draws Record 754,000 to Kassel". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014.
  37. ^ Berwick, Carly (17 May 2007). "Documenta 'Mystery' Artists Are Revealed; Buzz Strategy Fizzles". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014.
  38. ^ Donadio, Rachel (5 April 2017). "German Art Exhibition Documenta Expands Into Athens". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 6 April 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  39. ^ a b Hickley, Catherine (27 November 2017). "Documenta manager to leave post after budget overruns". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 16 January 2023.

Further reading


51°18′49″N 9°29′51″E / 51.31361°N 9.49750°E / 51.31361; 9.49750