Large-scale exhibitions are often synonymous of sore feet. Places so extensive in size and mentally exhausting due to the required reading of the various curatorial theories underpinning it.
And yet, I found documenta 14 pretty easy to navigate and pleasant to discover. Although the size of the map might suggest that the works and sites are kilometres apart, this is truly not the case.
Documenta was founded in 1955. Once every five years, art-lovers from around the world gather in Kassel — where it is traditionally held — for this event, one of the most prestigious contemporary art exhibitions in the world.
This year’s edition (running until 17 September in Kassel) is curated by artistic director Adam Szymczyk and it was also set in Athens, where the event kicked off in April and ended in June. It’s the first time the event has been hosted by two cities and the decision to do so was a controversial one, given the strained political and economic relationships between the two countries.
There are three main venues in Kassel this year: the Neue Galerie and the Neue Neue Galerie, and the documenta Halle, plus 30 further locations across the city, ranging from the Kunsthochschule Kassel to a new museum dedicated to the Brothers Grimm at the top of the Weinberg-Terrasen overlooking the Südstadt. This year, these ‘off-sites’ include the Fridericianum, which has been the historical centrepiece of the quinquennial exhibition. Many of the venues that are normally in disuse have also been activated for documenta 14. ‘Reusing such sites of production to display an exhibition is an act of repurposing – of redistribution if you will – to reveal the stories of certain architecture and transform its function,’ says curator Hendrik Folkerts.
During one and a half day (Christina and I arrived on Friday night very late and left on Sunday afternoon), we made it to all the main venues and to 20 of the off-site ones. Do not feel you need to do the same: leave your FOMO at home and get lost in the beautiful green and industrial spaces the city has reinvented and opened up after 5 years of planning, theorising and curating.
Pro-tip: start in the Nordstadt neighbourhood, and follow the axis towards the south. You will cover the majority of the sites in one long walk.
With less than a month to go, here’s a video with the whistle-stop tour of the highlights you should not miss.