Graffiti, Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, Athens, April 9, 2017. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Getty Images.

INAUGURATED BY ARNOLD BODE in 1955 in the bombed-out ruins of Kassel, a formerly industrial city that ended up on the eastern fringes of what had newly become West Germany, Documenta was famously intended to heal the wounds of recent European history by affirming the continuity of (Western) modernism. At the core of this civilizing mission was abstraction, whose formal language became a symbol of individualism and artistic freedom, and a means to differentiate West from East in the early years of the Cold War. Kassel thus became the stage for the construction of the contemporary in relation to highly contested (art-) historical, sociopolitical, and ideological entanglements. Circa 1955, the formation and future of “Europe” as moral arbiter and guardian of humanistic values was given a place and an aestheticin Kassel, underscoring its identity as the border of the West.

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