The sprawling experience of documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, was the usual treasure hunt. Locals helped us find some of the more elusive venues, including two that were hiding underground! Berlin-based Ellen Eby shared some of our featured photographs, as well as observations on her first-ever encounter with the international art exhibition presented once every five years:
I made the trek from Berlin for my very first documenta with a native of Kassel, in his classic olive green Mercedes from the 1970s with matching green enamel hubcaps. He told me that documenta was the highlight of his adolescence in an otherwise sleepy community, and pointed out a few trees with the distinctive markers from Joseph Beuys’ 7,000 Eichen, the legacy of two prior documenta exhibitions, as we made our way into town.
While walking from venue to venue across Kassel, I found myself reflecting on the city’s aesthetic dichotomy. Kassel holds both the prettiest gardens I’ve seen in Germany and a plethora of really drab buildings constructed after World War II.
The hive of activity in Friedrichplatz led me to the shaded steps of Marta Minujín‘s Parthenon of Books where I felt like I’d been let in on a secret when I spotted Banu Cennetoğlu‘s twist on the traditional lettering above the entrance to Fridericianum. Despite documenta dedicating the entire building to spotlight contemporary Greek art from the EMST collection usually on view in Athens, the poorly annotated jumble of works inside seemed to emphasize the country’s ongoing political and economic struggles.
The work that impressed me most was Pélagie Gbaguidi’s The Missing Link. Decolonisation Education by Mrs Smiling Stone. Sheltered in a cheery and quiet hallway of the Neue Galerie, with shades obscuring the beautiful Kassel landscape, the multi-media installation raises questions around the colonial legacy of education. Evidence of the artist’s work in real classrooms includes loose leaf paper on which she cites the commandments of slavery—commandments that originated at the founding of Greece.
Related FreshVUE: documenta14/Athens. Related podcast episode: Marcus Gammel on Every Time A Ear Di Soun. Related article: Documenta Kassel: Using Art As Their Witness.