The Beuys Universe: Art - Worldview - Documenta. Series IV

   Joseph Beuys and the Documenta

   The Myth of documenta

   Author: Prof. Dr. Klaus Siebenhaar


The Documenta 4

No other major cultural event in the world is as marked by historical momentum as the documenta. Its myth is based on the dialectic of destruction and reconstruction, and of rupture and continuity under the sign of dictatorship, World War and the "Cold War". Although it reinvents itself as a world exhibition of contemporary art every four years (later five years), this rooting in global political tragedies of the 20th century is part of the direct and indirect impact of the basic narrative of every documenta.


Arnold Bode

Although the documenta owes its existence to the idea, vision and tireless drive of a single man, namely Arnold Bode (1900-1977), every documenta reflects the aesthetic and political zeitgeist, thinking and creativity of different generations of artists. The art of the 20th century was initially focused entirely on Europe and North America ("Western art"). It has also been present in its global manifestations since the 1990s, finding its medium of representation and reflection in the documenta.


The Documenta 14

The history of the documenta reflects more than just the essential lines and trends of art development in the 20th century. It goes without saying that the documenta bears witness to the great masters and formative artists of modernism and contemporary art. It shows all the important stylistic trends and aesthetic innovations, and it documents the inexorable expansion of the concept of art. In the end, however, more than 60 years of documenta herald the spaces - the social, political, cultural and everyday spaces that modern art has created and conquered over the last 100 years. 


Beuys at The Documenta 5

The art spaces defined by each individual documenta address art discourses that remain valid today on freedom and society, work and event aesthetics, transdisciplinarity and science, criticism of museums and art market, Eurocentrism and globalization, ecology and colonialism, urban development and sociality. 

The documenta is like a treasure trove for visual artists and their works, for curatorial fantasies and for unbridled debate and controversy.


"The Parthenon of Books", Marta Minujín, The Documenta 14

At the same time, however, every documenta was and is an artistic and energetic event that captivates hundreds of thousands of visitors in an "empty" city of around 200,000 inhabitants for a hundred days. There is no other place in the world where the power and magic of art is so tangible, for the documenta transforms an entire city. During the documenta, Kassel becomes an enchanted city, so to speak. For these three months, the city lives almost exclusively in and with art. Its rhythm and urban atmosphere change, and it becomes the documenta city. This is one of the things that distinguishes documenta as a world art exhibition from the much older Venice Biennale (since 1895) or the São Paulo Art Biennial, which opened in 1951. This, too, is part of the documenta myth: the eternal tension between the local and the global, between the town's charm and the world trend.