The history of Documenta, in Kassel...

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08/03/17 - In 1955, ten years after the end of WWII, the city of Kassel, in Germany, organized the very first documenta. Back then it pretended to be an exhibition of artists from Western Europe.  Today, after 30 editions, it is known as a discussion space on global Contemporary Art and its political and social context.
Since 1977, each documenta leaves its mark in the city. This is why, during a quick tour around, it is possible to find the most extraordinary objects of past exhibitions. These site-specific were conceived to interact with the urban landscape, causing as much social impact as possible. Although most of the outdoor artworks are created to be exhibited only temporarily, 16 of them have remained permanently as gifts or acquisitions. What does it take for an artwork to remain? It depends on the social engagement, on the artist and on the sponsors. But it also depends whether the artworks represent a particular moment in art history or if they are example of interaction and approach with the surrounding urban space. Here, some interesting examples...

Documenta 6: The "Vertical Earth Kilometer" drills the surface of the Friedrichplatz and goes 1 km below ground. Its creator, Walter de Maria, recognized that it was one of the most complex works made in art history. Only a circle of 5 cm diameter can be seen of the buried bronze. 

Der Vertikale Erdkilometer, by Walter de María
Documenta 6, 1977
Documenta 6: "Frame Construction", by the group Haus-Rucker-Co, is a walk-through sculpture which allows visitors to prove the selection process caused by a frame. Held by a metallic arm, a small frame faces a larger one. The visitors entering the installation become themselves objects of observation while, with the smaller frame, they can see a cut-out of the surrounding reality. 

Rahmenbau (Frame Construction), by Haus-Rucker-Co 
Steel, steel gridwork / Measures: 14 x 16.5 x 31 m 
Friedrichsplatz / documenta 6 - 1977
Documenta 7: For this exhibition, Joseph Beuys distributed 7000 oak trees all around the city. It took him 5 years to clear the spaces for this social sculpture. As no other artwork in the world, these living forms radically take part in the visual structure of the city. Kassel's forestation involved the colaboration of the artist, the local government and the people. The first and last tree were planted in front of the Fridericianum. The constant care of this delicate artwork demanded the creation of a  special commission dedicated to protect it.
7000 Eichen – Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung (7000 Oaks – City Forestation instead of City Administration), by Joseph Beuys
documenta 7 - 1982 
Documenta 7: Claes Oldenburg is known for exaggerating the size of common objects, transforming them into gigantic sculptures. He made "Pickaxe" for this documenta after randomly finding a series of tools at a building under construction in Kassel. After this he decided to replicate a 12 mts-high pickaxe and literally hammer it to the ground, by the banks of Fulda river.

Pickaxe, by Claes Oldenburg
Documenta 7
Documenta 9: "A Man Walking to the Sky" was created by artist Jonathan Borofsky. The sponsors and citizens of Kassel decided to buy the artwork, which currently sits by the entrance of the bus station. Although this walking man has been in the city for more than 20 years, only this year was a drone able to photograph his face. As expected (or maybe not), he has no recognizable face or features. 
A  Man Walking to the Sky, by Jonathan Borofsky
Documenta 9
Also from Documenta 9 (1992) the city has kept Tomas Schutte's "The Strangers", located on the lintel of the main door of the Red Palace, at the Friederichsplatz. This group of figures represents the problems of integration, something that today, 25 years later, seems to have found no solution.
The Strangers, by Tomas Schutte
Documenta 9
documenta represents the trends in Contemporary Art. Each on of them is organized by a different artistic direction, chosen by an international committee. Thus, each curator, or group of curators, decides the artistic canon that will rule the exhibition. And after that, art philosophers and intellectuals are invited to discuss and reflect on the social changes that emerge from the selected artists.

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Liliana Wrobel


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