documenta 6 expanded into the city and honoured GDR painting
Although the deficit of documenta 5 cast ominous shadows, the State of Hesse wanted to set the course for documenta 6 at an early stage. Already at the end of 1973, a state grant amounting to one million deutschemarks was approved. Subsequently, however, there was more and more bad news, plunging the documenta undertaking into a severe existen-tial crisis. Arnold Bode and his circle of friends were partly to blame. The founder of the documenta had not got over the fact that during the planning of Harald Szeemann’s ex-hibition he was sidelined. Now he wanted to seize control again. Things came to a head in 1974: Karl Ruhrberg and Wieland Schmied withdrew from their commission to curate the exhibition and documenta 6 had to be postponed from 1976 to 1977. Manfred Schneckenburger lent a hand in a time of need. In 1974, the director of the Cologne Kunsthalle had shown with “Project 74” that he could plan in the documenta format, although the show would have to lag behind documenta 5. While Schneckenburger officially kept Bode in his team, the indefatigable planner could not implement any of his ideas. Above all, he dreamed of showing sculpture, environments and installations in the octagon with the statue of Hercules. Arnold Bode died a day after documenta 6 ended. Originally, the planners of documenta 6 considered com-bining a critical look back at earlier exhibitions with the presentation of current art from around the world. But Schneckenburger turned to the present. In principle, he picked up where Szeemann left off. The major achievement of the 1972 exhibition was that it tore down the restrictive barriers of a traditional understanding of art. Photography, video, installation and performance were accepted as new art forms. Manfred Schneckenburger, partnered by the theoretician Lothar Romain, went even further, trying to take stock of current art from the perspective of the dif-ferent media. This worked well, with the new artistic media given their own separate sections – performance, video, artist books, drawings and photography. On the other hand, the exhibition was a failure in the area in which the previous documenta exhibitions had been successful – in painting. One reason for this was that the influence of the art trade, about which Ruhrberg had warned, had become blatantly obvious. Shortly before the opening, gallery owners and artists took down paintings and rehung them. In ad-dition, a heated debate broke out about whether to include prominent GDR painters such as Willi Sitte and Werner Tübke. Although documenta 6 achieved a lot – particularly with the sculptures and installations in Karlsaue Park – it suffered from a bad image. Furthermore, in the preparation phase there was a great deal of discontent in the city about an art project viewed purely as provocation. Friedrichsplatz, a prime location and much-frequented square, had been transformed into a huge building site. Walter de Maria was planning to sink a brass rod one kilometre deep into the earth in the middle of the square. For this purpose, a hole had to be dug into Friedrichsplatz requiring weeks of work. The citizens of Kassel might have been willing to accept the noise and dirt if the project had been explained to them in detail before-hand. But that was not the case. Only after the drill tower had been cleared and the end of the so-called Earth Kilo-meter enveloped with a sandstone plate did the outrage subside.
Translation: Burke Barrett