More than an Art Exhibition

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev opened up a new cosmos with dOCUMENTA (13)
With dOCUMENTA (13), curated by documenta director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the exhibition concept was tailored even more radically to the person of the director than was the case with Catherine David (documenta X). Christov-Bakargiev not only selected the artists but attached importance to inviting as many of them as possible to take a tour of the city of Kassel in her company. One reason for this was to investigate possible exhibition venues. Another was to enable the artists to immerse themselves in the city’s written and unwritten history. Those who went on the tour not only learned that the venerable regular venue of the documenta, the Museum Fridericianum, once housed the Landgravian library, which went up in flames during a bombing raid in 1941, but also that eight years previously the Nazis sought to extinguish German literary treasures there by means of public burning. A visit to the former Breitenau monastery in Guxhagen was also on the agenda, because several strands of German calamity come together there. No documenta before was so rooted in the city. A symbol of this was the bronze tree of Giuseppe Penone (Idee di Pietra), which was anchored at the edge of the Karlsaue meadow two years before the documenta began. The tree became such a popular symbol that Kassel citizens enabled the sculpture to be bought by launching a spontaneous donation campaign. It was a highly political yet extremely sensual exhibition. The concept was based on a complex investigation of artistic and philo-sophical issues important for society, on the cycle of destruction and reconstruction, and on the question of the reciprocal enrichment of art and science. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev left her own personal mark on the exhibition design more directly than any documenta director before her. The “Brain,” rendered like an enterable glass display case in the rotunda of the Fridericianum, gave visual expression to her concept. It showcased small art-works as well as relics from various cultures. No relevant contemporary issue was left untouched, no cultural region was left unaddressed, no art form was left unrepresented. Indeed, this documenta was much more than an exhibition. It was a cultural manifestation extending back from the present to the origins of space. And for the first time the documenta took place not only in Kassel, but also in Kabul, among other places, with thematic links to the Kassel exhibition. The boldest experiment was the de-cision to show a substantial portion of the exhibition in various “garden sheds” in the Karlsaue meadow. The visitors accepted all of this as well as the fact that all of their senses were challenged. In Ryan Gander’s wind-swept void in the Fridericianum and in Tino Sehgal’s dance perfor-mance in a dark room, they became acquainted with new physical experiences. Even the risky attempt to obtain and train Kassel citizens from myriad professions and age groups to accompany visitor groups through the exhibition as “worldly companions” worked well and contributed to the relaxed atmosphere.

Translation: Burke Barrett

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