Rebecca Belmore, Biinjiya’iing Onji (From Inside), 2017.

Documenta 14 Opens in Athens

After five years, Documenta returns with its fourteenth edition—the first to be hosted by two cities, Athens and Kassel. Opening in the Greek capital on Saturday, April 8, and featuring 160 artists, “Learning from Athens,” will be staged at forty public venues, including the Athens Conservatorie, the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Athens School of Fine Arts. The second part of Documenta will open in Kassel on June 10.

In an interview with Artforum’s editor in chief Michelle Kuo, artistic director Adam Szymczyk said that the strict austerity measures currently in place in Greece inspired organizers to hold Documenta there. “One of the reasons to work in Athens in parallel to Kassel is precisely to make the exhibition in a place where you can see how problematic things are at the moment, and how much worse they may soon become—though not, naturally, to simply induce passive spectatorship.” Szymczyk added that the exhibition “emphasizes an idea of active exchange” and is an ongoing process that “would ideally produce knowledge about conditions within and far beyond Athens, conditions that are themselves constantly evolving.”

The largest Documenta exhibition in Athens will be hosted by EMST, which will also loan works from its collection to the Fridericianum in Kassel. At a news conference in March, EMST director Katerina Koskina said, “We believe that Documenta 14 comes to Athens just in the right moment. Despite the crisis and its impact on our everyday life in Greece, there is a vivid reaction expressed through a great interest for creation and culture especially from the younger generation. This is a turning point for EMST and both a challenge and an opportunity for the Greek artists. Believe me, they deserve it.”

Saturday’s inaugural programming includes performances by Nikhil Chopra, Jani Christou, Nevin Aladağ, Joar Nango, and Pope.L; a screening of Manthia Diawara’s An Opera of the World; Georgia Sagri’s “Dynamis (Askese–on Empathy)” workshop; and Sanja Iveković’s reading of Monument to Revolution. A full list of exhibiting artists and participating venues can be found on Documenta’s website.

Artist and educator Arnold Bode founded Documenta in Kassel in 1955 to end Germany’s cultural isolation after World War II. He first conceived of it as part of the Bundesgartenschau, a biennial horticultural show staged in Kassel at the time. Through the exhibition, Bode wanted to expose Germans to international artworks that were previously banned under the Nazi regime, which labeled expressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist works as “Entartete Kunst” (degenerate art). The inaugural Documenta focused on abstract art from the 1920s and the 1930s and drew more than 130,000 people.