And yet an Institution

Arnold Bode refrained from calling the documenta an insti-tution. For him it was an anti-institution that was part of the anti-establishment, as he wrote in the catalogue for documenta 4 in 1968 in view of the student and artist pro-tests at the time: “Even this edition of documenta we think does not belong to the establishment. What certainly iden-tifies its importance is the fact that documenta does not exist as an established institution. Every four years, it is back on the scene. Here it is! The idea of documenta must be reformulated from scratch every time: in its programme and its form.” According to Bode, a documenta is not ad-ministered, organized or even managed, but happens, is a kind of happening. Still, the organisational conditions have changed and the organisers find themselves in a dilemma: the documenta wants to remain anti-institutional yet at the same time requires lasting and reliable organisational foundations. It should guarantee the artistic director unlimited freedom, but at the same time has to orient itself increasingly to the professional criteria of so-called event marketing. A balance has to be struck each time between art and commerce and between the expectations of exhibition visitors and those of an expert audience. The documenta began in 1955 as a side event accompanying the second German Federal Horticulture Show. In 1954, Arnold Bode joined forces with Kassel friends to set up a citizen’s initiative which was registered as the Society for Twentieth Century Western Art. It was only with the second documenta in 1959 that the exhibition became a public institution, when the City of Kassel founded documenta GmbH, a non-profit limited liability company. Since 1961, the latter has been supported and co-financed by the State of Hesse. Since 1988, the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States and, since 2005, the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal Government support the com-pany financially. The executive bodies that control documenta-GmbH are a shareholders meeting, a supervisory board and an executive management. The City of Kassel and the State of Hesse each appoint five representatives to the supervisory board, whose statutory chairman is the Mayor of Kassel. Since 2005, two representatives of the German Federal Cultural Foundation have been members of the supervisory board. The latter never interferes in artistic matters and since the fifth documenta has been advised by an international committee of experts, above all regarding the selection of changing artistic direc-tors. Each documenta has since been characterized by the idea and the personal concept of the respective curator. In October 1986, documenta-GmbH was transformed into “documenta und Museum Fridericianum Veranstaltungs-GmbH”, as between documenta exhibitions contemporary art ex-hibitions are shown in the Museum Fridericianum, curated by the Fri-de-ricianum’s artistic director. This concept enables the public to engage with top-tier contem-porary art outside of the documenta. Since 1997, the City of Kassel has linked the name of the world-renowned art exhibition with its own name, calling itself “the documenta City Kassel”. For documenta 14, too, those responsible are sticking with the concept practiced since 1972 of appointing a new curator for each edition of the art exhibition. Four years prior to the exhibition, the supervisory board chooses an inter-na-tional eight-member selection committee which in a meet-ing lasting several days initially analyses the exhibitions held thus far and develops criteria that can be used to search for potential candidates for the position of artistic director of the next documenta. Three months later, the list of candidates is reviewed in another work meeting. Subsequently, six candidates are invited to take part in the selection process and present a concept. Three months after that, personal talks are held with these six candidates and their dossiers discussed. The next day, these interviews are continued with three of the six candidates. After thorough deliberation, a candidate is recommended to the supervisory board. The supervisory board concurs with the committee’s selection and appoints the artistic director. The great freedom the supervisory board grants the artistic director is an important reason why the documenta has been so successful. It goes without saying that the success of an exhibition with ambitious goals like the documenta cannot be measured based on attendance figures alone. The latter only show that the documenta hasn’t lost its appeal to an international audience even after nearly 60 years, and that it is possible to make a large exhibition popular and educational with-out being populist. That being said, indirect-ly the number of visitors – and tickets sold – point to another piece of meaningful, financial information. In fact, the yield from the admission tickets bought by the 905,000 visitors of documenta 13, plus the income from catalogue sales, accounted for approximately 46 % of the total budget of 30.6 million Euros for the five years from 2009 to 2013. Public funding (from the City of Kassel, the State of Hesse and the German Federal Cultural Foundation) comprised 34 %, while the remaining 20 % was provided by private donors, international foundations, and sponsors. Apart from gene-rating financial resources in exchange for letting the sponsors use the logo, the very precise spon-sor-ing concept enabled sponsors to participate in the advertising for the exhibition. Among the major sponsors, German Spar-kassen finance group, which has been the main sponsor for many years, developed its own app for the exhibition; Deut-sche Bahn attracted a lot of attention with the yellow loco-motive branded with the logo of documenta 13; and the third major sponsor Volks-wagen had the opportunity to intro-duce the especially open and receptive audience to its new en-vironment-friendly developments in car engine tech-nology. Sponsors of documenta 13 were the Deutsche Post, the manu-facturer of solar inverters SMA and Ströer Media AG, which made advertising space for billboards and screens for motion pictures available Germany-wide with a high media value. Since documenta 9 in 1992, Professor Gerd-Michael Hell-stern from the University of Kassel has regularly conducted scien-tific studies and surveys to investigate socio-demographic data of visitors and the economic benefits of the exhibition for the city and the region. In 2012 the total expenditure for documenta 13 amounted to more than 25 million Euros. The calculated turnover from visitors during their stay in Kassel were 156 million Euros. A considerable amount of tax income results from these both sections. So though this had never been intended, the adventure of staging an art exhibition that reinvents itself time and again has turned out to become an economic factor. Nevertheless Bode’s guiding principle for the task of the artistic director and for the task of the entire organisation remained valid: “It’s not enough to do what is doable, you also have to make possible what is possible.”

Translation: Burke Barrett

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