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German city becomes modern art capital

dpa logodpa 12/06/2017 Sandra Trauner and Goeran Gehlen

Every five years, the northern German city of Kassel becomes the capital of the world of contemporary art with its mammoth Documenta exhibition.

Excitement is building in Kassel as the northern German city gets ready to open the doors on Documenta, the world's most prestigious contemporary art show.

For 100 days, Documenta 14 will make Kassel into the capital of the art world - a major twist this time being that, under artistic director Adam Szymczyk, the exhibition was given two venues.

The Documenta 14 has already started out in Athens for a run from April 8 to July 16, and now, some of the works shown there are coming to Kassel.

The show is spread around many public sites. A 16-metre-tall obelisk is now standing in the Koenigsplatz square. Also completed is a work called Muehle des Blutes (Mill of Blood) in the Karlsaue, the city's baroque-landscaped park. A replica temple called Parthenon of Books is filled to brimming with thousands of banned books. The historical Torwach watchtower gate has completely vanished behind a massive pile of jute sacks. In a park in the north of the city, there is a nine-by-nine-metre pyramid.

Altogether, some 30 sites around Kassel are part of the Documenta 14. Nearly all the city's museums are involved, as well as such unusual locations as a former leather goods store, a cinema, a university campus hall, and the former main post office building.

This last edifice is located in a problem neighbourhood, where just recently there was a stabbing. From the outside, there is not much to see, but in fact, it is one of the main venues of Documenta.

A press spokesman said the post office is being re-named the Neue Neue Galerie (New, New Gallery) for the exhibition. The most recent artistic trends will be displayed there, while in the Neue Galerie museum the focus will be above all on historic movements.

Meanwhile, more than 200 works from the EMST museum of contemporary art will take their place on the walls of the venerable Fridericianum art museum. And well beyond 200 artworks from Athens have arrived for display in various locations.

Held only every five years, the Documenta is always awaited with great expectation, given the exhibition's global status.

This year the cat has largely been let out of the bag due to the Athens show, which opened on April 8.

If what was seen in Athens is any indication, then visitors to Kassel can expect a lot of performance art.

Sound art will also have a major presence. In Athens there were whispering loudspeakers around the city, as well as dancers among the antique temples, a tent for community dining, sheep dyed blue and visitors lounging on reindeer pelts.

Just how all this might play out in Kassel is anybody's guess.

In a country where the people are collapsing under the national debt load and refugees are drowning off its shores, political problems were very much in focus in many of the works in Athens.

In Kassel, a further issue will be taken up - restitution, or the return to the rightful owners of cultural goods that were stolen, confiscated or forced to be sold off.

Szymczyk invited more than 160 artists to the Documenta 14. Most of them created two works for both venues, works that were thematically related to each other.

For some of the works, the journey from Athens to Kassel is part of the concept. For example, four horsemen are currently riding through Europe, eventually to arrive in Kassel.

The reactions to the first part of the exhibition were mixed in the German press.

"Athens may have been a brilliant idea of Adam Szymczyk, but one idea by itself is not enough for the most important art exhibition in the world," commented the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

And the Die Zeit weekly said, "Too much remains half-baked, trusting, cheap. Too much is culturally valuable, yet aesthetically without any charm."

Other people however welcomed the two-venue approach as a kind of liberation.

Vinzenz Brinkmann, a German archaeologist living in Athens, commented that "Szymczyk has rescued the Documenta idea".

He said Kassel had seen certain "attrition" with things getting too smooth and becoming too much about events.

The initial Documenta was born "out of irritation," Brinkmann argued. In his opinion, Szymczyk has recognised this and "provided new force to the idea of the oppositional".

Documenta will run in Kassel until September 17.

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