Documenta 17 Goes to Athens, Splits Self in Two


Documenta, the renowned quinquennial contemporary art exhibition held in Kassel, Germany, since 1955, will split in two for its 14th edition, taking place not only in Kassel but also at “several distinctive venues” in Athens. The show will be titled “Documenta 14: Learning from Athens.” For the deep-pocketed art pilgrim, this adds yet another summer 2017 destination, in addition to the 57th Venice Biennale and the 47th edition of the mammoth Art Basel fair.

Past Documenta curators have decentralized the exhibition by organizing events and conferences in the years preceding the show (Okwui Enwezor, the 11th edition, 2002) or by recruiting a worldwide team of “agents” who served as co-curators and placed projects in locations as remote as Banff, Cairo and Kabul (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, 13th edition, 2012). Similarly questioning the notion of centrality, the roving Manifesta contemporary art biennial takes place in a new city for every edition.

But this move by 2017 artistic director Adam Szymczyk reaches a new level of dispersion, as Athens will host a significant portion of the show. The move reflects the split between northern and southern Europe, Szymczyk indicated when presenting the dual-venue plan at a symposium yesterday in Kassel. He also explained that just as Germany was at the center of massive changes afoot in Europe in 1955, when the exhibition was founded, so Athens is emblematic of the challenges facing Europe after the economic crash of 2008 and the crippling austerity measures that have followed.

“[The] position of host—with all the privileges involved—appears to be no longer tenable and begs to be questioned, if only temporarily,” according to a statement from the organizers. “Thus Documenta’s undisputed position as host will be abandoned for another role, that of guest, in Athens.” Using a flurry of current curatorial buzzwords, the announcement further indicates that the show will avoid the taboo of “parachuting in” since the three-year windup between now and 2017 is aimed not only at organizing a show, but also at “producing knowledge.”

The Athens portion of the exhibition will open early, in April, with the Kassel portion opening, as is customary, in June.

The curatorial team was also introduced at yesterday’s conference. It includes Pierre Bal-Blanc, director of France’s Contemporary Art Center (CAC) Brétigny; Hendrik Folkerts, curator of performance, film and discursive programs at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum; Hila Peleg, founder and artistic director of the Berlin Documentary Forum, which examines film, photography, art and other contemporary cultural practices; Dieter Roelstraete, senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and Monika Szewczyk, visual arts program curator at the University of Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

Curator and writer Marina Fokidis will head up the artistic office in Athens; she founded the Kunsthalle Athena and the arts and culture publication South as a State of Mind. Fokidis also curated the third Thessaloniki Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2011 and was the commissioner and curator of the Greek Pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale Athens.