jueves, 26 de agosto de 2021


Following its debut in 1955 as a major exhibition with international ambitions, documenta became a place where West Germany’s image of itself was moulded anew. Every four years (later, five years), its organisers and curators set themselves the task of illuminating current trends in art. The Deutsches Historisches Museum is breaking new ground by considering the history of documenta one to ten in the context of the political, cultural and social development of the Federal Republic of Germany between 1955 and 1997. Works of art, films, documents, posters, oral history interviews and other original objects of cultural and historical value illustrate how documenta, as an art event and a historical venue, commented on, demanded and reflected political and social change. Among them are famous works shown at documenta by artists as diverse as Max Beckmann, Willi Baumeister, Joseph Beuys, the Guerrilla Girls, Hans Haacke, Séraphine Louis, Wolfgang Mattheuer, Emy Roeder, Andy Warhol and Fritz Winter.

From the outset in 1955, documenta confronted its visitors with modern art, that is, with artistic styles that had been labelled ‘degenerate’ in Germany for more than a decade until 1945. In Kassel, the Federal Republic commended itself to its Western partners with a programme that perpetuated a past that it ostensibly sought to overcome. Almost half of those who participated in the organisation of the first documenta had been members of the Nazi party, the SA or the SS. By contrast, works by Jewish or communist artists who had been persecuted or murdered were not present at documenta. There was apparently no place for the victims of persecution, war and mass murder in the narrative of the young Federal Republic’s supposed ‘fresh start’.

documenta was closely connected with the political agenda of the Federal Republic in the 1950s and 1960s; it thus reflected the tensions of the Cold War. Modern art, previously denigrated, advanced to the status of official state art – through considerable financial backing and political support – and served as a means of cementing the Federal Republic’s bonds with the West. Located near the eastern border with the GDR – the former Soviet occupation zone – documenta also addressed an East German audience, even though it did not welcome the art of the GDR. It was not until the 1970s, in the wake of Willy Brandt’s policy of détente, that documenta showed any interest in East German and Eastern European artists.

Over the years, the documenta forged its career as a major international event with festival appeal, where young people came in throngs and could even discuss art with the artists in person. However, the traditionally minded among the educated middleclass felt provoked by the event and sometimes even protested against it. In the following decades, the ‘documenta’ brand established itself internationally as the model for popular and commercially oriented art events in a globalised (art) world. Time and again, it became a platform for political activism, as the feminist artists’ group Guerrilla Girls impressively demonstrated at documenta 8 in 1987.


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