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Documenta

The Documenta is one of the most important exhibitions of modern art, taking place every five days in Kassel, a mid-sized city right in the center of Germany. The thirteenth edition of Documenta has welcomed visitors between June and September 2012 and as usual several venues in the city were used, some of which were accessible without the need to purchase a ticket. These were available starting at €20 for a one-day pass. The 2012 exhibition, which welcomed a record 905,000 visitors, had been curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, an Italian-American curator who had previously worked as director of an art museum in Turin, Italy. Documenta 13’s guiding motif was “Collapse and Recovery”, a theme that allowed for a wide range of interpretations.

The idea for a modern art exhibition was conceived by Arnold Bode, a German painter and designer from Kassel, who organized the first Documenta in 1955, then merely an addendum to a large horticulture and landscaping show. Ever since its first edition, Documenta has grown in significance, reaching new visitor record numbers with each exhibition. It has become a tradition to open parts of the exhibition to the general public by displaying a few of the exhibits in the city. Also, the city of Kassel has purchased some exhibits of past Documenta shows, usually visitor’s favorites and displays them within city limits. Examples are 7000 oak trees planted by Joseph Beuys, a laser sculpture illuminating the Herkules statue or the “Man walking to the sky” sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, today on display in front of the old Kassel main railways station.

The 2012 Documenta went beyond what is usually considered art and included representatives from many other professions, such as architects, engineers, philosophers and even zoologists, economists or hypnotherapists in its lineup. A lot of the exhibits were located in the Karlsaue, a large, historic urban park near downtown.

Thanks to the beautiful scenery, the exhibits at Karlsaue were among those most appreciated by the audience. Among others, there were the cabin built by Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake called “A self-portrait as a scrapped shed” (top left), the wooden structure “Gallows” by American artist Sam Durant (top right), the elliptic clock made by Anri Sala from Albania (bottom left) and the unusual project called “Sanatorium”, conceived by Mexican Pedro Reyes. This small sample of exhibits illustrates the fact that Documenta has become more and more international over the decades.

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Where Arnold Bode had put a focus on so-called “Degenerate art” (a label used by the Nazis to discriminate against art they deemed improper), Documenta in its recent editions has been a show offering a cross-section of global modern art from the perspective of the curator, whose personality and attitudes towards art thus always have a more or less obvious influence on the exhibition itself, which is sometimes called the “museum for 100 days”.

Kassel is conveniently located at the intersection of Autobahns 7 (north-south) and 44 (east-west) if you choose to go by car. If arriving by air, travelers should fly into Frankfurt and board a train from there, as there are direct train connections going from the airport to Kassel which will take about 2 hours. Kassel has a sufficient number of hotel beds available in all categories.