It just takes a visit to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened – no small feat considering how many years of failed efforts it’s taken – to welcome one of the main exhibitions of the documenta 14 international art fair, to understand the spirit, sheer breadth and kaleidoscopic approach of this event, one of the world’s biggest and most important.
What the event means to Germany – where documenta was born – is evident by the fact that the country’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is scheduled to attend the inauguration of the exhibition in Athens on Saturday. The Greek capital is the first city that its birthplace, Kassel, has jointly hosted the event with since it first launched in 1955.
“For three months, Athens will be at the center of the international cultural community’s attention,” the Greek side is proud to boast. For sure, co-hosting with Greece is an important move with special significance for the Germans.
“The crises of the previous years have caused shocks inside the EU, most importantly the decision of the British people to leave [the bloc]. Hence it is particularly important that we send a clear signal of EU unity, as the case is here in Athens on the occasion of the exhibition,” Steinmeier told Kathimerini in an interview on Thursday.
There is one piece at the National Museum of Contemporary Art titled “The Greek Way.” We won’t talk about its content, but the title alone is enough to make most Greeks freak out. Can we live up to such lofty expectations? On an organizational level, we’re OK because the Germans are responsible for that side of things, but emotionally, can we? Can we put aside stereotypes, enemies, prejudices and trite statements referring to building bridges and such that only belie a sense of inadequacy. A true partnership can only be achieved on equal terms. Putting something down or building it up too much inevitably lead to the same negative result. Before we speak, we need to stop, observe and think – after all, documenta 14 gives us plenty of time to do just that and maybe in that time we will also think about how we can make our city, our country, ourselves and, most importantly, our relationships with others better.
If we don’t take this opportunity to embrace all the great things this event is bringing, all we will ultimately achieve is being vaguely remembered as co-hosts. We will have taken away the bare minimum and missed the chance to take away the new, not in art, but in an experience that has the power to transform.
The objective here is not to boost tourism, but to achieve true osmosis.