Between Protest and Pop Art

documenta 4 under the influence of topicality and missed possibilities
While documenta III hung in the balance, from documenta 4 on the Kassel exhibition was an institution, although in the early 1980s a few local players still acted as though the most recent documenta would be the last. The State of Hesse’s willingness to join documenta GmbH (the limited liability company managing the documenta) as an equal partner alongside the City of Kassel in 1962 helped to stabilize the situation. It had long been Arnold Bode’s dream that the documenta would become a permanent institution. But in 1968, a year of great political upheaval, he did not like to hear the term institution because in the eyes of the protesting artists and students everything labelled an institution was suspect. There-fore, Arnold Bode began the preface to his catalogue with the following sentences: “Even this edition of documenta we think does not belong to the establishment. What certainly identifies its importance is the fact that documenta does not exist as an established institution.” Bode’s attempt to take the wind out of the sails of the leftist critics failed. The artists and gallery owners who represented the new critical art stemming from the Fluxus movement found documenta 4 smug and market oriented. Thus, artists such as Wolf Vostell and Jörg Immendorff, among others, sabotaged the documenta press conference, and artists and gallery owners including René Block, who would later become the director of the Fridericianum, formed a small counter-documenta in the Staatstheater. Suddenly Bode was sitting between all chairs. With the help of the “documenta council”, and particularly Jean Leering, he had learned his lesson from documenta III and wanted to gear the exhibition in 1968 entirely to the present and to topical issues. But present-day critical forces were absent. On the other hand, prior to documenta 4 he had had to confront those who did not want to change the direction towards current art. A year before the exhibition opened, Werner Schmalenbach (who later became the director of Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen) and the painter Fritz Winter left the documenta council. Still, documenta 4 was the first documenta with high enter-tainment value. This was due in large part to the mecha-nical objects that turned and moved, the hall of mirrors in which visitors could look under women’s skirts, the eye-catching pop art, and Edward Kienholz’ frightening yet beautiful environment “Roxy’s” in which visitors moved between eerie puppet people. In those years, ambience and environment were the magic words. With an unerring feeling, Bode had visualized the expansion of the image into space in 1964. Now he was introducing artists who with the help of objects and images enabled spaces to be entered and experienced. In spite of the all of the criticism, the exhibition contribut-ed to the popularization of the documenta. Though late, the exhibition entered collective memory as a major forum for pop and minimal art. In addition, Christo held the art world in suspense for weeks, because no one knew whether he would be able to bring his 80-metre-long balloon (the 5600 Cubic Meter Package) to a standstill above Karlsaue Park. He suc-ceeded in his fourth attempt. Thus the documenta had become an event space for the first time.

Translation: Burke Barrett

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