Universes in Universe

For an optimal view of our website, please rotate your tablet horizontally.

documenta - History

All editions of the documenta in Kassel since its beginning in 1955

documenta 1

16 July - 18 September 1955
Direction: Arnold Bode, Werner Haftmann
148 artists, 130.000 visitors

Gerhard Richter: Portrait Arnold Bode. 1964
Oil on canvas, 170 x 110 cm
Exhibited at documenta 2017

The artist, architect, designer and academy professor Arnold Bode (1900-1977), who was born in Kassel, used the Bundesgartenschau (Federal Horticultural Show) as an opportunity to simultaneously organize an international exhibition of contemporary art in the ruins of the Fridericianum. Together with the art historian Werner Haftmann, who became the conceptual head of documenta Editions 1 to 3, he put together almost 700 works. The aim was to bring back to Germany the avantgarde that had banished by the Nazis and to introduce the population to classical Modernism, defamed as "degenerate", as well as to more recent works

documenta 2

11 July - 11 October 1959
Direction: Arnold Bode, Werner Haftmann
339 artists, 134.000 visitors

The great success of the first show (more than 130,000 visitors) encouraged Bode and Haftmann to conceive an even more comprehensive exhibition (1,770 works). After the retrospective view of the first documenta, the focus shifted to art of the post-war period and the present-day. Haftmann saw "abstract art as the international language of the present and future" and placed it at the centre of the show. Since the Museum Fridericianum was no longer sufficient, the Orangery in the Karlsaue, Bellevue Castle and presentations of sculptures in the public space were added. The huge canvases of Action Painting from the USA attracted particular attention. The documenta was institutionalized (GmbH) and was to take place every 4 years from then on.

documenta 3

28 June - 6 October 1964
Direction: Arnold Bode, Werner Haftmann
353 artists, ca. 200.000 visitors

The third edition did not take place as planned after 4 years, but instead after 5 years, the usual rhythm since 1972. For the last time a documenta was directed by Arnold Bode together with Werner Haftmann, who was assisted by a larger group of art specialists. "With its focus on the traditional genres of painting, sculpture, and graphic art and its emphasis on abstract art, documenta 3 was—again—further removed from its time than the previous exhibition" (documenta website). Particular attention was paid to the large section of hand drawings from the past 80 years. In the catalogue foreword Bode calls the documenta "Museum of 100 Days" for the first time.

documenta 4

27 June - 6 October 1968
Direction: Arnold Bode, a documenta committee selected the participants
150 artists, 207.000 visitors

The preparations were accompanied by fierce controversies, whereby the future of the documenta itself was at stake in addition to the artistic orientation. Werner Haftmann resigned from his posts. A committee of 26 members was to decide on the selection of artists in a grassroots democratic manner. Only 4 of the 150 participants were women. At the opening there were protests against the absence of Fluxus, happening and performance, against commercialisation ("documenta of the markets") and demands for the social relevance of art. Pop Art was now also strongly represented, somewhat belatedly, as were Color Field Painting, Post-Painterly Abstraction, Op Art and Minimal Art. About one third of the participants came from the USA.

documenta 5

30 June - 8 October 1972
Direction: Harald Szeemann
222 artists, 220.000 visitors

Harald Szeemann. © Foto: Haupt & Binder

This edition represents the most important turning point in the history of the documenta to that date. The Swiss curator Harald Szeemann was the first to be appointed as the solely responsible artistic director, who developed a programmatic orientation for "his" documenta entitled "Questioning Reality - Pictorial Worlds Today". Although Szeemann's concept "was not achieved in its encyclopaedic claim, the combination of 'individual mythologies', photorealism, conceptual art, as well as the 'parallel visual worlds' of psychiatric art and kitsch, generated a creative examination of all artistic forms." Szeemann himself saw the d5 as "information about and ways to art and thus hopefully (as) the beginning of a post-art-market era." (old documenta website. Transl. from German: UiU)

documenta 6

24 June - 2 October 1977
Direction: Manfred Schneckenburger
623 artists, 355.000 visitors

Manfred Schneckenburger continued to expand the concept of art, as had been the case in the two previous editions. Thus technical media such as film, photography and video were presented as art. Artists' books, historical photographs and films d'auteur were featured at a documenta for the first time. Never before had there been so much video art to see. In addition to a critique of the mass media, documenta 6 also dealt with the media qualities of art, the "self-reflection of the artistic media" (painting about painting or film that reveals its own visual grammar). The inclusion of "official" artists from the GDR encountered fierce protest.

documenta 7

19 June - 28 September 1982
Direction: Rudi Fuchs
182 artists, 387.381 visitors

The Dutchman Rudi Fuchs abstained from a title and a theoretical concept. He wanted to stage the exhibition as a dialogue of recent works, thereby emphasizing their aesthetic autonomy. The documenta 7, which was rather museum-oriented, devoted the widest space to painting. This included the opulent paintings of the Italian "Transavanguardia" and the expressive works of the German "Neue Wilden". The outdoor installations were more popular, including the gigantic pickaxe by Claes Oldenburg and the arrangement of the 7,000 basalt stones by Joseph Beuys as a prelude to his 7,000 oaks to be planted.

documenta 8

12 June - 20 September 1987
Direction: Manfred Schneckenburger
317 artists, 486.811 visitors

Initially, Edy de Wilde and Harald Szeemann were supposed to run the d8 together, but broke off their cooperation due to differences in content. Therefore Manfred Schneckenburger took over the leadership again at short notice, but had to renounce a theoretical concept, among other things because of time pressure. In contrast to the emphasis on aesthetic autonomy in the previous exhibition, Schneckenburger wanted to again examine "the historical and social dimension of art". Sound and video installations and numerous performance programs played a major role, while relatively little painting was on display. Instead, great importance was given to architecture and design.

documenta 9

13 June - 20 September 1992
Direction: Jan Hoet
195 artists, 615.640 visitors

Jan Hoet, Kassel, 1992
© Photo: Ludwig Rauch

The enormous success of documenta 9 from the perspective of the public is attributed in particular to the talent of the Belgian Jan Hoet as entertainer and public relations manager. But it was precisely his media-effective staging of the documenta as a spectacle that met with rejection from art critics. Instead of a theoretically well-founded programme, he stuck to vague hints. In addition to the overloaded and confusing exhibition, there was an opulent supporting programme with jazz, boxing and baseball as its core elements. Regarding his approach, Hoet claimed that he wanted to start from scratch, forget the artists he knew, go on a journey, look for something new. But even his version of the "World Exhibition of Contemporary Art" remained with the established "Western Art" despite tentative openings. Further critical comments on this in G. Haupt's article on artists from Latin America at documenta 9.

documenta 10

21 June - 28 September 1997
Direction: Catherine David
138 artists, 628.776 visitors

Tunga: Inside out, upside down (Ponta Cabeça), 1997
Installation, performances. Kulturbahnhof, Kassel.
© Foto: Haupt & Binder

With Catherine David from France, a woman was selected to direct a documenta for the first time. Her intention, declared with high intellectual standards, to question the meaning and purpose of such a large-scale exhibition through a " manifestation culturelle," and to take a critical look at the political, social, economic and cultural problems of the globalised present, already brought her much criticism in advance, especially from those who feared for the autonomy of art. Expectations regarding a further opening of the documenta to art from "non-Western" regions of the world were again disappointed. In the series "100 Days - 100 Guests", on the other hand, numerous intellectuals and artists based there had their say, including Edward Saïd, Okwui Enwezor, Raoul Peck, Wole Soyinka, Suely Rolnik, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Geeta Kapur.

More information and photos:
UiU Special on d10 ►

8 June - 15 September 2002
Direction: Okwui Enwezor
117 artists, 650.924 visitors

Okwui Enwezor. © Foto: Haupt & Binder

The 11th edition is regarded as the first documenta with a truly global, post-colonial perspective. Okwui Enwezor, born and raised in Nigeria, was the first non-European curator to be appointed artistic director of a documenta. He was supported by an international team of curators: Carlos Basualdo, Ute Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, Octavio Zaya. Prior to the exhibition in Kassel, transdisciplinary platforms took place on four continents, fundamentally expanding the traditional format of documenta.

More information, many photos:
UiU Special on d11 ►

documenta 12

16 June - 23 September 2007
Direction: Roger M. Buergel; Curator: Ruth Noack
119 artists, 750.584 visitors

Lotty Rosenfeld. Using white tape, the Chilean artist turns traffic lane markings into crosses.
© Foto: Haupt & Binder

The curatorial couple had chosen "Migration of Form" as their theme. This essentially meant that the visual culture of mankind can manage with a few basic forms that are varied in different ways. Less helpful for understanding the concept were the three leitmotifs that were mentioned as orientation for this documenta: Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? And in relation to education: What is to be done? Once again, comparatively many artists from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe were represented. With around 50 percent of all participants, it was the highest proportion of women in documenta history. A novelty was the inclusion of older art from various parts of the world.

UiU Special on d12 ►

9 June - 16 September 2012
Direction: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
194 artists, 904.992 visitors

Song Dong: Doing Nothing Garden. In the background, the Orangerie
© Foto: Haupt & Binder

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev gathered around her a large circle of so-called "agents" and was supported by Chus Martínez as head of the curatorial department. dOCUMENTA (13) was not intended to follow a single, overarching concept, but to bring together diverse materials, methods and forms of knowledge as in a choreography. The leitmotif was "Collapse and Recovery", i.e. the healing of war traumas through art, with reference, among other things, to Kassel, which was badly destroyed in the Second World War, and Afghanistan, where a documenta exhibition took place in the ruins of the royal palace in Kabul. A special exhibition of Afghan artists was shown in the former Elisabeth Hospital in Kassel, which was one of several unusual exhibition venues, including the vineyard terraces, a bunker and numerous "civic spaces" in the city centre. The overflowing exhibition parcours could hardly be managed in several days, even if the event and film programme was left out. Nevertheless, the queues of waiting people in front of the main venues were so long that for many observers a further increase in the number of visitors did not seem reasonable.

UiU Special on d13 ►

Direction: Adam Szymczyk
8 April - 16 July 2017 in Athens, Greece
10 June - 17 September 2017 in Kassel
163 artists, 103 historical positions
339.000 visitors in Athens
891.500 visitors in Kassel

Rebecca Belmore: Biinjiya'iing Onji (From inside). 2017
Hand-carved marble tent, Athens.
© Foto: Haupt & Binder

Under the title "Learning from Athens", the artistic director Adam Szymczyk and a large team of curators, advisors, and assistants conceived and realized a very elaborate double structure at the two equally important locations. The participating artists were invited to reflect on the dynamics emerging between these two cities and to develop a work for each of the two locations. The documenta 14 was an attempt to encompass a multitude of voices in the two cities and beyond, and to include non-European contexts from the perspective of the Mediterranean metropolis of Athens, where Africa, the Middle East and Asia meet.

UiU Special on d14 ►

18 June - 25 September 2022
Direction: ruangrupa

ruangrupa. © Photo: Gudskul / Jin Panji, 2019

ruangrupa, a collective of artists and other creative people from Jakarta, Indonesia, has been selected by an international selection committee for the artistic direction of documenta 15. The title chosen by ruangrupa, lumbung, is the Indonesian word for a communal rice barn where the surplus harvest is stored for the benefit of the community. It is in this context that the group places its approach to documenta 15: "We want to create a globally oriented, cooperative, interdisciplinary art and culture platform that will remain effective beyond the 100 days of documenta fifteen. Our curatorial approach aims at a different kind of collaborative model of resource use—economically, but also in terms of ideas, knowledge, programs, and innovation."

UiU Special on d15 ►

© Compiled and translated by Gerhard Haupt & Pat Binder from information on the official documenta website and other sources.

Also interesting in UiU:

Back to Top