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by Nanne Buurman & Dorothee Richter

Editorial: documenta: Curating the History of the Present

In his text, “Modell documenta: oder wie wird Kunstgeschichte gemacht?,” included in a special issue on documenta for the journal Kunstforum International that Walter Grasskamp edited on the occasion of documenta 7 (1982), he cites documenta as an example of how art history is produced. In it, he not only describes the ways in which exhibitions contribute to the making of art history but also observes a change of heroes from artists to curators, providing a foundational narrative of curatorial and exhibition studies that has proven to be extremely influential. In fact, its English translation, “For Example, documenta, or How Art history is Produced,” published in the anthology Thinking About Exhibitions,[i] has meanwhile become canonical itself, so much so, actually, that many contributors to our special issue cite it in their essays. Thus, “For Example, documenta” can be taken as an example of how exhibition history is produced. Considering the fact that he stresses the importance of installation and provides very convincing examples of how curatorial stagings produce meaning, remarkably little attention has been paid to display in the general writing about documenta.[ii] This was also reflected in the proposals for contributions for this issue, many of which focused primarily on artistic contributions or curatorial concepts but—with a few exceptions—less on the materialization of the installation of the shows themselves. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to critically examine the politics of display and the discrepancies between curatorial claims and the realities performed in the shows, not least because—as many contributors eventually selected for this issue call to our attention—these claims and performances are usually ideologically charged, as they have always been informed not only by artistic trends and cultural developments but also by socioeconomic and geopolitical contexts.[iii]

Ideologies and Geopolitics

A number of the contributions dedicated to the early documenta editions remind us of the first documenta’s role in West German reconstruction, re-education, and nation-building, which, after after World War II, the Nazi regime and its infamous exhibitions of so-called “degenerate art” has to be seen in the context of the Federal Republic of Germany’s integration into the Transatlantic West during the Cold War. In his contribution to this issue, “Becoming Global,” Walter Grasskamp, for instance, argues that despite ostentatious PR emphasis on internationality, the first four documentas were in fact quite German, Eurocentric, or later North Atlantic in terms of statistics and staging, while he also problematizes the notion of national representation. In “d is for documenta,” Kathryn M. Floyd discusses how the first documenta (1955) was branded in terms of internationalism by developing a corporate identity whose design features, as she argues, are exemplary of the international style with its streamlined aesthetics contributing to glossing over ideological discrepancies within Western capitalism. As Susanne König’s comparison of the first documenta with the Allgemeine Deutsche Kunstausstellung (1946) nine years earlier in Dresden makes obvious, a pluralistic all-German selection of abstract and figurative styles that had characterized the “first all-German exhibition” gave way to an increasing privileging of figurative art in the East and of non-figurative art in the West of Germany with the intensification of the Cold War after the founding of the GDR (East German Democratic Republic) in 1949. In this light, documenta initiator Arnold Bode’s dedication to primarily expressive modern art and his art historian co-curator Werner Haftmann’s promotion of “abstraction as a world language,” a slogan devised for the second documenta, may be read as an ideological affiliation of documenta with the “free West,” where artistic liberation from naturalist representation was considered as an expression of individualism, whereas (socialist) realist art was regarded as “unfree” because it did not cut its ties to extra-artistic reality.[iv] The marginalization of realist tendencies in the early history of documenta may thus also be read as a de-politicization of art, with documenta nevertheless serving political functions despite, or rather because of, this denial of politics. As Vesna Madžoski argues in her reprinted chapter “Ghostly Women, Faithful Sons,” documenta as a spectacle has been a disciplinary institution and consensus machine, in which women only played a minor role, whereas the men in charge maintained all authority. According to her, despite challenges from student protesters at documenta 4 (1968) or Harald Szeemann’s radical change of focus with documenta 5 (1972), documenta remains an appeasement apparatus that turns visitors into consumerist subjects even as late as 2007 with documenta 12 taking a more or less explicit feminist stance and reserving central roles for women (so far, it is by the way also the documenta with the highest proportion of women artists).

Methodologies and Epistemologies

To come back to the question posed above: What could be the reasons for the lack of attention to display? Surely, access should no longer be a problem since the documenta Archiv’s digitized collections of photographs of most documenta exhibitions are now online. Could the reason be an art-historical methodology that—despite interventions by museum-, exhibition-, and curatorial studies as well as by visual culture and sociology of art—is still largely trained to look at clearly bounded individual artworks, verbal documents, or historical contexts, but not as much at multi-medial and multi-dimensional curatorial constellations? Or is it the shift of attention from working with pictorial materials to more theory-based approaches that is responsible for this lack of attention? Admittedly, particularly with a large-scale recurring exhibition, such as Biennials, Triennials, and documenta[v] it is difficult to construct and define the object of research, to draw the line around what is of interest and what isn’t. This is particularly the case in the expanded field of curating and exhibition making, in which classical reception aesthetics have been extended by post-representative approaches to curating and the curatorial.[vi] These call attention to exhibitions as not only culturally, politically, and socio-economically situated, but also to their role as social spaces themselves, as arenas where multiple agencies interact. In her contribution “Plunging into the World,” Nina Möntmann traces this understanding back to the 1990s and emphasizes the political potentials of an increasing convergence of art world and real world insofar as curatorial and artistic practices can serve as time machines that help to construct alternative imaginaries to the contemporary neoliberal and neocolonial conditions. Similarly, the newly appointed documenta professor Nora Sternfeld proposes, in the English version of her “inaugural lecture,” a research perspective that is situated in medias res, that acts in the middle of things, in the post-representational space between representation and presence, between the inside and outside of the institution, assuming a para-sitical position towards documenta understood as a “Para-Museum of 100 Days,” which is itself implicated in social conditions and power relations. In “Thinking the Arrival,” former documenta guest professor Dorothea von Hantelmann argues that with his contribution to dOCUMENTA (13) (2012), Pierre Huyghe challenged what she considers to be the “ontology of exhibitions,” i.e., a modernist teleological notion of progress and subject-object opposition, that, she explains, is under suspense in “Untilled,” which instead adheres to a post-anthropocentric logic of association, networking, and compostation and thus intervenes into the usual fast-forward mode of exhibition visits by inviting visitors to linger and get involved in the mattering of the site rather than assuming an objectifying critical gaze. In different ways, all three of them thus stress that the polarity of critical distance and affirmative participation, imagined as a binary between mutually exclusive positions, is no longer epistemologically tenable for the study of exhibitions, or documenta in particular.[vii]

If we look at the history of documenta, discussions have notably quite often oscillated between the polarities of critique and affirmation of the status quo, distance from and immersion into reality, social relevance or l’art pour l’art, autonomy and heteronomy. As Harald Szeemann wrote in 1974 in his proposal for a “Museum of Obsessions” (with which he applied for artistic directorship of documenta 6 that went to Manfred Schneckenburger in the end), “Too much has recently been written about art’s social relevance or its necessary inutility.”[viii] After Szeemann’s unsuccessful attempt to include art from the GDR in documenta 5 in 1972, which had been turned down by the East German officials who were worried that the realist contributions would be “othered” along the lines of trivial art and art by the mentally impaired—what today would be called “outsider-art”—, the first and only showing of GDR artists took place in 1977 during documenta 6, where they were juxtaposed with self-reflexive meta-painting.[ix] Whereas documenta 5, with its concept of “Questioning Reality—Pictorial Worlds Today,” had performed a sort of realism insofar as it had pulled down the walls between art and non-art practices, or, between art and life, with the “Media Concept,” documenta 6 propagated reflections of art’s mediality rather than its participation in reality.[x] Anna Sigrídur Arnar’s contribution on “Books at documenta” illustrates this. She shows how at documenta 5, books had been staged as usable things that could be handled and read, whereas at documenta 6, they were in many cases “metamorphosed” into untouchable art objects and displayed in vitrines that kept visitors at a distance. This inoperation also partlycharacterizes the latest curatorial engagement with books at dOCUMENTA (13) and documenta 14 (2017), where they were/are significant building blocks of artistic and curatorial agendas. The perceivable shift from an idea of participation in reality at d5 to a reflection of reality at d6 illustrates one significant characteristic of the history of documenta since 1972, when Szeemann introduced a thematic approach to exhibition-making: the explicit conceptual distancing of artistic directors from their predecessors, which also becomes obvious, for example, if one compares documenta 12’s reflexive approach to the declaredly post-critical stance of dOCUMENTA (13).[xi]

Agencies and Historiographies

In many cases, these claims of rupture, however, over-exaggerate differences at the cost of attention to institutional continuities.[xii] This principle of innovation is also inscribed in documenta’s rules and regulations, which since 1972 postulates for a new artistic director to be selected every five years, who is then expected to come up with something new. Particularly in the media reception of documenta, each new edition is hailed for its innovative potentials, often declaring things as new that had been there before (perhaps because they would otherwise not be “newsworthy”). Declaring newness is, of course, a good marketing strategy, therefore many proclaimed “first times” of documenta are in fact not really first times, but rather means to attract attention and suggest singularity. Thus, certain patterns of critique that keep reiterating old clichés have become canonized, particularly regarding the persona of the artistic director or curator, who is generally accused of over-staging and willful domination of artists.[xiii] Yet, the more serious writing on the history of documenta also frequently uses heroizing rhetoric that hails Arnold Bode and Werner Haftmann as exceptional founding fathers, with many other great men, particularly Szeemann, to follow in the genealogy of visionary game changers. But this personalization, subjectivation, and author-ization of curatorship, identified by Grasskamp in 1982 as the “Heldenwechsel” (change of heroes) from artists to curators, has also been scrutinized more critically. documenta and the discourses surrounding it have indeed been quite important in developing and discussing the topos of the curator as an author, at least in Germany.[xiv] In 2000, for instance, Beatrice von Bismarck analyzed the reciprocal appropriation of curatorial and artistic authorship in Daniel Buren’s Exposition d’une Exposition at documenta 5. In “The Master of the Works,” the new English translation of her text for this issue, she calls attention to how Harald Szeemann staged himself as primus inter pares in a photograph that shows him on the last day of documenta 5 and that he included in a little booklet titled Museum der Obsessionen. with/by/on/about Harald Szeemann (1981). Szeemann’s strategy of self-musealization has proven to be quite successful, as both the photograph and the topos of the curator as a meta-artist have since become icons, or even archetypes of curatorial and exhibition studies, which are reiterated again and again. Therefore, in a revised version of the article “CCB with…,” developed between 2013-2016, Nanne Buurman, for instance, compares Szeemann’s self-staging in Museum of Obsessions to that of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in The Logbook, the third part of the dOCUMENTA (13) catalogue. She scrutinizes not only the shifting (bio-)political implications of curatorial self-stagings against the backdrop of changing socio-economic conditions, but also the role of gender for performances of curatorship in neoliberal regimes of value production, also discussed as immaterialization or feminization of labor.[xv] Dorothee Richter, who had observed the gendering of Harald Szeemann’s pose in the abovementioned photograph from an iconographic point of view in 2012, picks up on these questions in her contribution “Being Singular Plural” and extends the scope of her analysis to representations of the curatorial subject at documenta X, 12, and (13). Such repetitions and citations of given tropes, of course, contribute to the making and re-making of a canon and hopefully thereby also queering curatorial authorships, by re-framing them differently. [xvi]

The tension between repetition and difference is performed in this issue on two levels: on the one hand, it is identified as a driving principle of documenta as a recurring large-scale international, if not global, exhibition that reinvents itself every five years (thus not quite being a biennial) and that has recently celebrated its 60th birthday in 2015. On the other hand—beyond the history of documenta itself, an institution that is characterized by continuity and change, stability of the institution and temporariness of its individual realizations—recurring motives also manifest themselves in its reception and thus also permeate this issue with many intriguing cross-references between contributions (watch out for ants!). But needless to say, every historiography or edited volume has its blind spots: in this issue, for instance, you will learn very little about the 1980s editions of documenta 7 (1982) and 8 (1987), which may be due to the fact that the respective curators Rudi Fuchs and Manfred Schneckenburger did not pick up on the thematic outlook of their predecessors, but instead staged relatively conventional shows, both low on theory but with the difference that d7 returned to the aesthetic ideals of autonomous art, whereas d8 featured more politically charged works.[xvii] Moreover, even though, with our call for papers, we attempted to solicit a multiplicity of trans-disciplinary and transnational voices, the vast majority of the proposed texts were by Germans or German speakers, as is our selection. This may, of course, have to do with the fact that documenta is an institution inextricably entangled with German history, society, and cultural identity, but also perhaps due to the channels and networks though which we distributed our CFP and invited contributors. Like H-ArtHist, documenta may be more provincial than we are generally accustomed to think—although, of course, from its rather provincial point of departure in Kassel, it has managed to expand its geographical frame of reference over the years. Nevertheless, according to our contributors, it is doubtful whether this means that it has really become a “global exhibition,” whatever this might mean exactly.[xviii]

Globalization and (de-)Provincialization

Despite the founders’ dedication to “internationalism” (see Grasskamp’s and Floyd’s contribution) and the only slowly increasing admission of artists from around the world, which was boosted by end of the Cold War and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (remember, Kassel was only some 30 kilometers away from the inner German border and played a significant role in the showcasing of the Western way of life), the presumption that there could be a truly global perspective nevertheless must seem rather totalizing, universalizing, or Eurocentric, since exhibitions as well as the knowledges they produce and the world-pictures they present are always situated.[xix] After the first acknowledgement of globalization during documenta IX (1992), the attempts to include art from beyond Europe and to engage with postcolonial theory were most notably advanced during documenta X (1997) and Documenta11 (2002) by Catherine David and Okwui Enwezor, respectively. In their contribution, Charles Green and Anthony Gardner pose the question of how far the curators’ engagement with globalization turned documenta into a “Post-Northern Exhibition” and of how far Enwezor’s promises of pluralizing and diversifying both artistic and curatorial authorship were attained. Has the deterritorialization of documenta—the new convention to add satellites in places beyond Kassel (and in Kassel’s underprivileged areas) that started with Enwezor’s five “platforms” in Berlin, New Delhi, St. Lucia, Lagos and Kassel (and the Hirschhorn project in Kassel’s Nordstadt), picked up by Christov-Bakargiev with her outposts in war-ridden Kabul and in Alexandria and Banff, and most recently continued with Adam Szymczyk’s decision to create a double of documenta in Athens—really contributed to decolonializing and provincializing documenta, or are these instances of an export of a successful European model abroad? In other words, how much are these measures unintentionally reproducing the existing power relations?

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that this year’s documenta 14 is not free of accusations of being neocolonial, as Yalouri and Rikou report from Athens, where they are members of the Athens Art Observatory’s project “Learning from documenta” that critically engages with the nexus of knowledge and power inherent in d14’s concept of Learning from Athens. As they argue, there are links between the romantic ruin aesthetics and contemporary crisis tourism—recurring motives in the complicated German-Greek relationship not only since the most recent European debt crisis, which raises the question of who learns from whom and to what ends. Already in 2013, Ayşe Güleç had called attention to the potentials and pitfalls of “learning from the Other.” Like Yalouri and Rikou, she is writing from the perspective of participant observation adopted from the social sciences and anthropology. Her text, “Learning from Kassel,” reprinted here reflects on documenta 12’s engagement with local communities in a migrant society and on dOCUMENTA (13)’s failures to build on that local knowledge in its public programming, and may have well served as an inspiration to Adam Szymczyk’s working title Learning from Athens. The decision to hold documenta 14 in two cities in overlapping timelines, by the way, was explained as having the goal of “unlearning,” decolonizing Eurocentric knowledge and responding to the current crisis of democracy by transplanting part of d14 to the place where this concept originated. Whether this decentering of a monocular perspective from Kassel to a binocular one supplemented by Athens, this schizophrenic double vision, may undo neocolonial and neoliberal power relations between East and West, North and South, and contribute to dismantling global hegemonies, as intended, or whether it turns out to be a neo-Orientalist exoticization of the crisis-ridden Other within Europe, as some critics claim, remains to be seen. What may be said is that it follows the convention according to which every new artistic director seems to feel responsible to broaden documenta’s scope and to explore new venues beyond Kassel—while the institutional structures of documenta itself and the logic of growth not only in terms of geography, but also in terms of multiplying the number of artworks, the visitor numbers, and the budget, seem to go more or less unchallenged. The exception to this was perhaps documenta 12, which, apart from the globe-spanning network of magazines, remained rooted locally in Kassel, and which, with its concept of the Migration of Forms, attempted to interpret transculturality not in an expansive way, but as linked with the transformative potentials of aesthetic experience, a proposition that was received very controversially.[xx]

Temporariness and Contemporaneity

This expansion of geographical scope in the history of documenta was related to a contraction of the time frame covered. While the first documenta (1955) with its motto “art of the twentieth century” spanned half a century, the second (1959) with the motto “art since 1945” covered fifteen years with some retrospective parts, and the third one (1964) more or less claiming to focus on the present and its prehistory, many of our contributions touch not only on documenta’s temporariness as a recurring exhibition but also on the notion of the contemporary. Philipp Oswalt, for instance, compares documenta and the Bauhaus as institutions that were dedicated to building “Orders of the Present,” which had similar conceptual, organizational, and educational agendas, encountered comparable challenges, and also witnessed some overlaps in terms of membership and design despite their different life spans. Kristian Handberg calls attention to the fact that the director of Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, Knud W. Jensen, experienced a “Shock of the Contemporary” when visiting documenta II in 1959, which inspired him to show a selection of works from dII later that year after documenta had closed and to reorganize his museum as a popular attraction, with historical contextualization of contemporary art. In “Installations Everywhere,” Angela Bartholomew describes documenta IX as a “labyrinthine exhibition” of lost oversight, a labyrinth of installations, in which visitors were no longer sovereign subjects but got lost in the spirit of the time when, three years after the victory of capitalism in 1989, according to artistic director Jan Hoet, “Everything was available.” As one may learn in Handberg’s contribution, the idea of labyrinthine exhibitions already had been fashionable in the 1960s. And even as early as in the 1950s, Werner Haftmann in his introduction to the catalogues of dI and dII discusses the problem of lost oversight, which he relates to the difficulty of dealing with contemporaneity without historical hindsight.[xxi] Thus, perhaps documenta 12 was right in posing the question, “Is Modernity our Antiquity?”[xxii] As already mentioned, Möntmann draws on more recent discussions around the contemporary to argue for the potentials of documenta as a time capsule haunted by the legacies of colonialism but with the potential to imagine an alternative world order to the neoliberal and neocolonial and to open up new vistas to the future. The structural conditions of instability responsible for the historical amnesia of documenta as a temporary institution, a “museum of 100 days” as it was dubbed by Haftmann at the occasion of documenta III, or an event (a notion that has become popular since the unrealized first concept of documenta 5) that is reinvented every five years with an entirely new team, are conditions that, Güleç claims, are partly responsible for the difficulties of learning from former documenta generations, and that will hopefully be reconfigured by the new documenta institute that is currently in the making and has the potential to bridge these gaps.

Résumé and Outlook

Many of our texts, in one way or another, thus call attention to documenta’s contribution to constructing a “history of the present” (Foucault), and it is exactly this presence that also poses a challenge to the research of the more contemporary documenta editions. In a 2009 paper titled “To Be Continued: Periodic Exhibitions (documenta, For Example),” Grasskamp provides a “making of” the abovementioned special issue Mythos documenta. Ein Bilderbuch zur Kunstgeschichte (Mythos documenta. A Picture Book on Art History), recalling his experience of sorting through the as yet unsystematized, unsorted, and unindexed collection of exhibition photographs of the first six documentas in the documenta Archiv in Kassel in 1982, thereby “discovering a new topic”: the “pictorial history of exhibitions.”[xxiii]As we can reade there, his work is focused on those editions of documenta that he did not see as a visitor himself (the first – fifth documentas), his writing thus always constituting a historical reconstruction mediated by archival materials such as concept papers, newspaper clippings, and most prominently the installation photographs that allow him to witness the respective documenta editions through the eyes of others. This puts him at a historical distance from the object of research, a retrospective position of overview that sorts through the images and allows the researcher a sort of Malrauxian reconstruction of documenta as an imaginary museum.[xxiv] By saying this, we do not mean to diminish his pioneering work to bring to light hitherto neglected images of the exhibition. Rather our aim is to call attention to how much changed research paradigms of participant observation, the understanding of exhibitions as social spaces of encounters, and curatorial studies’ indebtedness to cultural studies and visual culture impact the research on documenta today.

We thus would also like to acknowledge how the various documenta editions have inscribed themselves as traces in our memories and subjectivities. Having worked at d11 as a guard and d12 as an art educator, having spent weeks at d(13) in Kassel and returning with fresh impressions from a week at d14 in Athens, Nanne feels she can no longer assume a Malrauxian position of distance, a disembodied gaze on a compendium of images that—though it may be unsorted—is finite. Working with the marvelous possibilities of the digitized collections of the documenta archive online, she realized that her access to the historical material is on the one hand much more distanced than, for instance Grasskamp’s hands-on and on-site engagement with the stacks of material photographs in the 1980s, while, on the other hand, she was directly involved bodily and institutionally in the more recent editions of documenta, which she is researching. Or Dorothee, recalling the joy, the scopic and intellectual jouissance (if there could be such a thing) of entering the documenta hall at documenta X, of encountering the acknowledged position of a theoretical discourse in space, something with which as a young curator she was herself engaged in her curatorial practice, of fueling the connection of actual political activities with the cultural field, of discussing formats and publics, of scrutinizing digital realms.Like any other disciplinary and educational institution, each documenta proposes specific paradigmatic models of the subject and power constellations, which in each case function as appeals to the visitors.[xxv] These paradigmatic models of the subject operate in the political sphere: they give us a sense of how we should function as male or female citizens, they propose modes of order, they subtly convey constellations of power—in short, they communicate conceptions of race, class, gender. Between the opening of the Athens part of documenta 14 and the Kassel part, we are dealing with the last corrections of this issue. For Adam Szymczyk and the co-curators, it was obviously a major concern to position this documenta in two interrelated financial situations, and to emphasize their underlying power relations. The aim of the curatorial team is to turn “documenta 14 into a continuum of aesthetic, economic, political and social experimentation.”[xxvi] Szymczyk describes the ongoing severe changes between 2013 and 2017 as follows:

“We have witnessed—both locally and globally—the implementation of debt as political measure, the gradual destruction of what remained of the welfare state, wars waged for resources and the market, and the resulting multiple and never-ending humanitarian catastrophes. This darkening global situation has leaned heavily upon our daily (and nightly) thinking about, and acting on and for, documenta 14.”[xxvii]

Against the uncanny background of post-democratic societies, populist megalomania, and alternative truth scenarios described by Szymczyk, it is urgent once again to open vistas to an alternative future. Surely, curating the history of the present may contribute to this endeavor to move beyond the global capitalist status quo and the neo-fascist perversions it engenders, but “learning from Athens,” or “learning from documenta” cannot be but first steps of a challenging journey to come.

Nanne Buurman is an art educator, curator, and scholar based in Leipzig currently working on her PhD in art history at the Freie Universität Berlin, where she was a DFG (German Research Foundation) funded member of the International Research Training Group InterArt Studies from 2012-2015. Her main research areas are curatorial and exhibition studies with a focus on documenta, authorship and gender, socioeconomic contextualization, and globalization. In 2015, she co-organized the international conference Situating Global Art at the Freie Universität Berlin for which she is currently co-editing the publication. Besides her academic commitments, Buurman has worked for a number of art institutions, including Documenta11 and documenta 12 in Kassel. She has also been involved with numerous collaborative formats of cultural production, among them the art mediation project Arbeitslose als Avantgarde (The Unemployed as an Avant-garde), which she initiated in the framework of the documenta 12 art education program (2007), as well as a number of exhibitions and book projects. Publications include “Angels in the White Cube? Rhetoriken kuratorischer Unschuld bei der dOCUMENTA (13),” FKW/Zeitschrift für Geschlechterforschung und visuelle Kultur, 58, April 2015 (English translation in OnCurating, 29, May 2016); “Exhibiting Exhibiting. documenta 12 as a Meta-Exhibition,“ Kunsttexte, Nr. 3, October 2016; “Hosting Significant Others: Autobiographies as Exhibitions of Co-Authority,” in Beatrice von Bismarck and Benjamin Meyer Krahmer (eds.), Hospitality: Hosting Relations in Exhibitions, Sternberg, Berlin, 2016; “Vom Gefängniswärter zur Heilerin. Kuratorische Autorschaften im Kontext vergeschlechtlichter Ökonomien,” Kritische Berichte, 4, December 2016; and “Home Economics: Curating as a Labour of Love,” Esse Arts + Opinions, 90, Spring 2017.

Dorothee Richter is Professor in Contemporary Curating at the University of Reading, UK, and head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, CAS/ MAS Curating at the Zurich University of the Arts, Switzerland; She is co-director with Susanne Clausen of the PhD in Practice in Curating Programme, a cooperation of the Zurich University of the Arts and the University of Reading, as well as the publisher of the web journal OnCurating.org; Richter has worked extensively as a curator: she was initiator of Curating Degree Zero Archive, which travelled to 18 venues in Europe; Curator of Kuenstlerhaus Bremen, at which she curated different symposia on feminist issues in contemporary arts and an archive on feminist practices, Materialien/Materials; recently she directed, together with Ronald Kolb, a film on Fluxus: Flux Us Now, Fluxus Explored with a Camera (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart 2013, Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Wien, 2014, Kunsthochschule Hamburg 2014, Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen, 2014, Kunstverein Wiesbaden 2014, University of Reading 2013, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich, 2013; Kunsthalle Sao Paolo, 2014; Ostwall Museum Dortmund, 2015, Kibbutz College Tel Aviv, 2015; Universität Lüneburg; 2015; Museum Tinguely in Basel, 2015, Lentos Museum in Linz, 2016), and she is working at the moment on a video archive on curatorial practices together with Ronald Kolb, with 100 interviews of contemporary curators and curatorial groups.


[i] Walter Grasskamp, “Modell documenta oder wie wird Kunstgeschichte gemacht?,” Kunstforum International, Vol. 49, 3/1982, April/May, pp. 15-22. A revised English translation was published as “For example, Documenta or How is Art History Produced?,” in Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson, and Sandy Nairne, eds., Thinking About Exhibitions, Routledge, London, 1996, 2.Ed. 1999, pp. 67–78.

[ii] For exceptions, see Harald Kimpel, documenta. Mythos und Wirklichkeit, Diss. Univ. Kassel 1996, DuMont, Cologne, 1997; Nanne Buurman, “Exhibiting Exhibiting. documenta 12 as a Meta-Exhibition,” in Kunsttexte, No. 3, October 2016, idem., “Angels in the White Cube? Rhetorics of Curatorial Innocence at dOCUMENTA (13),” OnCurating, 29, Special Issue "Curating in Feminist Thought,” ed. by Elke Krasny, Lara Perry, and Dorothee Richter, Zurich, May 2016.

[iii] See also Oliver Marchart, “Hegemonic Shifts and the Politics of Biennialization. The Case of documenta (2008)” in Elena Filipovic, Marieke van Hal, Solveig Øvstebø, eds., The Biennial Reader: An Anthology on Large-Scale Perrenial Exhibitions of Contemporary Art, Hatje Cantz, 2010 and Dorothea von Hantelmann, “Notes on the Exhibition”, dOCUMENTA (13) 100 Notes/100 Thoughts Series, No. 88, Hatje Cantz, Ostfieldern, 2012.

[iv] See Werner Haftmann, “Malerei nach 1945,” in documenta II, M. DuMont Schauberg, Kassel, 1959, p. 15. Exhibition catalogue.

[v] See Anthony Gardner and Charles Green, Biennials, Triennials and documenta: The Exhibitions That Created Contemporary Art, Wiley-Blackwell, Boston, 2016.

[vi] See, for instance, OnCurating, ed. by Dorothee Richter; Ausstellungstheorie und Praxis series, ed. by schnittpunkt/Nora Sternfeld et al., seven volumes, 2005-2016; Cultures of the Curatorial series, ed. by Beatrice von Bismarck et al, three Volumes 2012-2016; Jean-Paul Martinon, ed., The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating, Bloomsbury, London/New York, 2013.

[vii] For different ways of relating art and reality today that feature discussions around dOCUMENTA (13) in particular, see also Lotte Everts, Johannes Lang, Michael Lüthy, Bernhard Schieder, eds., Kunst und Wirklichkeit Heute. Affirmation – Kritik – Transformationen, transcript, Bielefeld, 2015.

[viii] Harald Szemann, “From the first Draft for a Museum of Obsessions,” in Kunstforum International, No. 21, 3/1977, n.p.

[ix] See Gisela Schirmer, DDR und documenta. Kunst im deutsch-deutschen Wiederspruch, Reimer, Berlin, 2005.

[x] See also Maria Bremer’s recently defended dissertation thesis on documenta 5 and 6, Freie Universität Berlin, 2017.

[xi] See Nanne Buurman, “Angels”, “Exhibiting Exhibiting,” and “White Cube-Pink Cell. Spatial Politics at documenta 12 and dOCUMENTA (13),” paper delivered at the University of Copenhagen, June 2014.

[xii] In her dissertation, Maria Bremer argues that while historigraphy tends to highlight the significance of documenta 5 for the development of contemporary art, documenta 6 which tends to get less attention, may have been even more influencial as it managed to silently implement the norm of criticality and media-reflexivity that has remained influencial until today.

[xiii] Dirk Schwarze, Die Expansion der documenta-Kritik. Eine Ausstellung im Spiegel der Presse, Vol. 16 of “Schriftenreihe zur Kunstkritik,” Walter Vitt, ed., Steinmeier, Nördlingen, 2006.

[xiv] See for instance the special issues of Texte zur Kunst: Texte zur Kunst Special Issue “documenta,”, 2. Jg., H. 6, June, 1992; Texte zur Kunst, Special Issue “The Curators,” June 2012, 22, 86. See also Barbara Paul, “Kuratoren und andere(s). documenta und Männlichkeitskonstruktionen,” in: k60. Forum - Freunde und AbsolventInnen der Kunstuniversität Linz. Linz, 2007.

[xv] See also Nanne Buurman’s more recent text, “Vom Gefängniswärter zur Heilerin. Kuratorische Autorschaften im Kontext vergeschlechtlichter Ökonomien,” in Kritische Berichte, 4, December 2016, in which she discusses the shift from disciplinary societies to societies of control corresponds with conceptualizations of the curator as a prison warden (Smithon’s critique of cultural confinement at documenta 5) to conceptualizations of the curator as a healer (as Christov-Bakargiev was dubbed during dOCUMENTA (13).

[xvi] For exhibitions as orders of knowledge, see also Katja Hoffmann, Ausstellungen als Wissensordnungen. Zur Transformation des Kunstbegriffs auf der documenta 11, transcript, Bielefeld, 2013.

[xvii] See, for instance, Harald Klimpel, documenta. Die Überschau, Dumont, Cologne, 2002.

[xviii] See, for instance, Hans Eichel, ed., 60 Jahre Documenta. Die lokale Geschichte einer Globalisierung, Siebenhaar Verlag, Berlin, 2015.

[xix] See Nanne Buurman, Sarah Dornhof, Birgit Hopfener, Barbara Lutz, , eds., Situating Global Art, transcript, Bielefeld, forthcoming 2017.

[xx] See, for instance, Barbara Lutz “Curating as Transcultural Practice. documenta 12 and the 'Migration of Forms‘,” in Nanne Buurman, Sarah Dornhof, Birgit Hopfner, Barbara Lutz, eds., Situating Global Art.

[xxi] Werner Haftmann, “Einleitung,” in documenta, Prestel-Verlag, Munich, 1955, pp. 15-16, Exhibition catalogue, and idem., “Malerei nach 1945,” in documenta II, M. DuMont Schauberg, Kassel, 1959, p. 12. Exhibition catalogue.

[xxii] See also Vera Lauf, Moderne Aneignungen. Zur Kritik der Modernen in der Kunst der Gegenwart, Silke Schreiber, Munich, 2014.

[xxiii] Walter Grasskamp., To Be Continued: Periodical Exhibitions. Documenta for Example, Tate Papers, No 12, Landmark Exhibitions Issue, 2009.

[xxiv] Annette Tietenberg, “An Imaginary Documenta, or, the Art Historian Werner Haftmann as an Image Producer,” in Michael Glasmeier and Karin Stengel, eds. Archive in motion. 50 Jahre documenta.1955-2005, Steidel, Göttingen, 2005.

[xxv] See, for example, Tony Bennett, “The Exhibitionary Complex,” in Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson, and Sandy Nairne, eds., Thinking About Exhibitions, pp. 81-112.

[xxvi] See Adam Szymczyk, “14: Iterability and Otherness. Learning and Working from Athens,” in Quinn Latimer and Adam Szymczyk, eds., The documenta 14 Reader, Prestel, Munich, 2017, p. 22.

[xxvii] Ibid., p. 23.


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Issue 33

the documenta issue

by Nanne Buurman & Dorothee Richter

Editorial: documenta: Curating the History of the Present

by Vesna Madžoski

Ghostly Women, Faithful Sons

by Ayşe Güleç

Learning from Kassel