With the Kassel leg of documenta 14 opening to the public on Saturday, here’s what you need to know
As with the Athens chapter (or should that be movement?) of documenta 14, the curators will stress the importance of seeing the presentations in all venues before making a judgement on the show, but for what it’s worth, the venues containing the majority of the work for the Kassel leg of d14 are the Neue Hauptpost (what d14 are calling the Neue Neue Galerie), documenta Halle and the Neue Galerie.
Breaking with documenta tradition, the Fridericianum, normally the primary venue for the exhibition, has been given over to the public collection of Greek and international contemporary art of the National Museum of Contemporary Arts, Athens (EMST). Only one documenta artist features inside: a large-scale video installation by Ben Russell (Good Luck, 2017). The façade of the building hosts an intervention by Banu Cennetoğlu who has reworked the museum’s name on the building’s frontispiece to read ‘Being Safe is Scary’.
Outside in Friederichsplatz is the large scale installation The Parthenon of Books (2017) by Marta Minujín, the result of an open call for 100,000 formerly or currently banned books fabricated into a model of the Athenian Parthenon, at the same site where numerous books were burned by the Nazis in 1933. Located on the right hand side of Fridericianum as you are facing it, the smoke bellowing out of the Zwehrenturm tower is Daniel Knorr’s Expiration Movement (2017) and outside of documenta Halle is Hiwa K’s When We Were Exhaling Images (2017), a series of steel tubes filled with personal objects, cots, lamps and books, replicas of the possessions of migrants, who featured in the artist’s wonderful film Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue) (2017), installed in the Athens Conservatoire.
The Neue Hauptpost – deliberately chosen for its location in the north of Kassel which is home to many of Kassel’s immigrant communities – has the majority of newly-commissioned works; documenta Halle reprises work by many of the artists included in various parts of the Athens presentation, while the densely concentrated Neue Galerie features mainly historical works and research. One highlight worth seeing and hard to miss is a fascinating display related to a disabled, transgendered Kassel-based artist Lorenza Böttner who lost both arms in accidents, and died of Aids in 1994.
According to the curators, their suggested route for seeing the works is north to south, starting from the former underground train station the Kulturbahnhof (featuring Michel Auder Nikhil Chopa, iQhiya and Zafos Xagoraris), then to the Neue Hauptpost (for the majority of the new commissions), a series of glass pavilions on the main road of Kurt-Schumacher Strasse, each devoted to one artist: Otobong Nkanga, Angelo Plessas, Vivian Soutar and Mounira Al-Solh. Heading south, you will reach documenta Halle, the Orangerie, Karlsaue park (featuring only a few works this time), then to the Neue Galerie (which has the largest concentration of works), Palais Bellevue, the Grimmwelt and the Museum für Sepalkralkultur. The film programme takes place in the Bali- Kinos and the Gloria-Kino.
In contrast to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s dOCUMENTA (13) the works are mainly focused in and around the three main venues, with a scattering of outdoor works and a few works in the smaller venues that the curators claim are worth not missing, for instance at the Grimmwelt, drawings rarely exhibited outside of their home in the Ukraine by Bruno Schultz, that are inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales.
The Neue Hauptpost (confusingly also referred to as the Neue Neue Galerie) is a disused post office, and the works there comprise the majority of the newly commissioned works for d14 in Kassel. Some of these relate to the mail, distribution systems, and according to the curators, notions of ‘redistribution’. The venue begins with a large installation by Rasheed Araeen, including copies of the art magazine he founded in 1987, Third Text, as well as abstract paintings and cuboid sculpture works – here converted into stools and tables – familiar to those who visited the current Venice Biennale. Upstairs there’s a large, durational performance by Maria Hassibi. The Belgrade-born artist Irena Haiduk is given a room devoted to her 'Borosana Shoe Issue' project for which she re-incorporated a Yugoslavian state corporation that produced ergonomic shoes for women working in factories. These were unofficially used as corporate footwear in Yugoslavia and she is distributing them to the women working at documenta. There’s a large installation of photographs by Moyra Davey which she mailed one by one to the documenta team in Kassel, plus works by Beatriz González, a soap installation and performance by Otobong Nkanga and a new film by Artur Żmijewski which he filmed in Russia.
documenta Halle is perhaps the airiest of the main venues but the one containing the fewest works and most minimal of hangs. The only venue purpose built for documenta – completed in 1992 for Jan Hoet’s documenta 9 – its long cavernous hall is given over to architectural installations showcasing documentation of perfomances by experimental US dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin nearby a work similar to the one presented at EMST, Athens by artist duo Marie Cool Fabio Balducci. The main hall sees large scale installations by Chilean poet and artist Cecilia Vicuña (a new version of the monumental work she installed in the EMST); hanging fabrics and clothing dyed in various types and shades of indigo – a collection of 12 varieties of the plant are presented below – by Malian artist Aboubakar Fofana; a series of seven paintings mounted on rollers by Senagalese artist El Hadji Sy, two boats repurposed into makeshift instruments by Mexican musician and artist Guillermo Galindo and a newly constructed stage, designed by Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet with a 5% gradient, which will host later performances. Painting features too, upstairs with presentations by US artist Stanley Whitney, Pakistani artist Lala Rukh and a work by Greek artist Apostolos Georgiou and downstairs with a wonderful collection of spidery abstract works by late South African artist Ernest Mancoba and a set of of colourful abstracts by designer, violinist, composer, theorist and painter, Sedje Hémon, all made in Athens in the 1950s and early ’60s. Also downstairs in the back room, don't miss a new two-channel video performance by Alexandra Bachzetsis, Studies for Massacre – Seven Stages (2017).
The Neue Galerie is the location with the greatest number of works on show. These are mostly historical works concerning relationships between Germany and Greece, reasons for documenta to be in Athens, topics of restitution, repropriation and stolen art, 19th century nationalism and its ties to 20th century museum convention and art history, as well as lesser-known politically engaged artistic figures from Eastern Europe and Latin America, and even some old Master paintings. It’s the first time that the entire venue is being used for documenta. A core argument here concerns the linking of 20th century museum culture and artistic modernism around the world to 19th century colonial enterprise and exploitation, slavery and the Global South. The venue culminates with Maria Eichhorn's project about books that once belonged to German Jews which are now housed in the Zentralbibliothek in Berlin, as well the Rose Valland Institute – named after art historian Rose Valland, who secretly recorded details of Nazi looting during the German occupation of Paris – which researches, documents and investigates the ongoing impact of Raubkunst or Nazi-looted art formerly owned by Europe’s Jewish population.
Far fewer than the last edition, these include:
Hans Haacke, Wir (alle) sind das Volk (We (all) are the people, 2003/2017), five posters – the same as the ones shown in Athens. Friedrichsplatz
Olaf Holzapfel, Trassen (in der Kasseler Karlsaue) (Lines [in the Karlsaue in Kassel], 2017), painted wood , 5.5 × 4 × 8.5 m. Karlsaue Park, (100m from the Orangerie)
Hiwa K, When We Were Exhaling Images (2017). A series of steel tubes filled with personal objects, cots, lamps and books. documenta Halle, Friedrichsplatz
Daniel Knorr, Expiration Movement (2017), the smoke bellowing out of the tower. Zwehrenturm (next to Fridericianum)
Antonio Vega Macotela, The Mill of Blood (2017), steel, wood, and glass, 5 × 9 × 9 m (symbol and coin designer: Richard Massey). Orangerie
Ibrahim Mahama, Check Point Sekondi Loco. 1901–2030. (2016–2017). An installation in which two buildings have been covered entirely in shipping sacks. A similar work was included in Okwui Enwezors’ Venice Biennale in 2015. Location: Torwache Süd, Brüder-Grimm-Platz
Marta Minujín, Parthenon of Books (2017). Steel, books, and plastic sheeting ,19.5 × 29.5 × 65.5 m. The monolithic installation outside the Fridericianum featuring banned books donated by the public. Location: Friedrichsplatz
Emeka Ogboh, Sufferhead Original (2017), 50,000 bottles of craft beer, billboards, a television commercial and radio jingle, various locations
Olu Oguibe, Das Fremdlinge und Flüchtlinge Monument (Monument for strangers and refugees, 2017), concrete, 3 × 3 × 16.3 m. Obelisk with translated Bible verse. Königsplatz
And finally ...
Outside of the documenta programme, Yngve Holen has built a new organ for the imposing double-towered Martinskirch Kassel in collaboration with architect Ivar Heggheim. For the five year-long project, which took three months to contruct, artificial human hair hangs from the pipes, and blow as the instrument is played.
For more information on the venues, artists and programme of documenta, including their official guide and map, visit the Press and Information office at Friedrichsplatz 4 or visit their website here.
For a recap of our coverage of the Athens leg of d14, here are our editors' reviews of the four main venues:
Check back for daily reports from documenta 14 and see the highlights from Kassel on our social media channels.
Main image: Friedrichsplatz, Kassel. Courtesy: documenta 14; photograph © Mathias Voelkze