Aside from the quinquennial art festival Documenta, Kassel, a city of some 200.000 in central Germany, is probably one of the least visited places in the country. Its bland post-war architecture and formerly isolated location are often quoted as making Documenta a perfect counterweight to Venice´s glamorous art Biennale. In Kassel, as cliché would have it, nothing distracts from the art.
This year´s Documenta fifteen, curated by Indonesian art collective Ruangrupa and poised to provide a platform for artists from the global south, proved that scandal is possible even in such a sleepy place. Antisemitic motives on a monumental painting by Indonesian collective Taring Padi dominated Documenta´s reception in the German press. Depending on the commentator’s position, the scandal either proved that art should not be produced by collectives but individuals, that post-colonialism and antisemitism are inseparable, or that parts of the press and the political establishment had created exaggerated outrage to drown out valid anti-western voices.
One might lament that the discussion ignores many other works presented. It does, however, highlight real fault lines in the dialogue between global north and south. Bringing these to the attention of a wider audience seems not without merit.
Documenta fifteen makes good use of what the city has to offer. A vacant department store (“ruruHaus”) in Kassel´s 1950s shopping street is the reception building, blurring the boundary between city and museum from the outset. While the traditional “Fridericianum” is notoriously overcrowded, venues like the nearby Documenta-Halle and the Ottoneum allow for a more focused engagement.
The real highlights, however, are the temporary venues on the other side of the river Fulda, especially Hallenbad Ost and St. Kunigundis church. Here, in Kassel´s east, the dense urban center abruptly gives way to a terrain vague of small industry and wide arterial roads. Visitors find gems of Kassel´s inter-war period architecture. Exhibitions in these satellite venues are taken over by one or several artist collectives and underline Documenta´s aspiration toward grassroots organization.
06/18 – 09/25/2022