Since the emergence of the crisis, the Greek capital has witnessed an unexpected collateral benefit as Athens turned into a magnet for international art curators, art theorists as well as a number of artists.
It’s hardly surprising that a city constantly put to the test on so many different fronts – ranging from rising poverty figures to the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis – has sparked such curiosity. And of course, as history shows, places undergoing great upheaval have often proved fertile ground for exciting new art. Nevertheless, this was not the reason why Adam Szymczyk, artistic director of the upcoming Documenta, the world’s most famous art exhibition along with the Venice Biennale, opted to split the event’s 14th edition between Germany’s Kassel and the Greek capital, under the title, “Learning from Athens” (www.documenta14.de/en/). Events in Athens will run from April 8 to July 16.
The reasoning behind the decision was recently unveiled by Documenta CEO Annette Kulenkampff. Congenial and active, the German executive was on a visit to Athens as part of her duties regarding the coordination and supervision of the entire team working on the ambitious, double venture scheduled to take place in both countries next year. According to Kulenkampff, the organizers’ strategic choice stems from Documenta’s own spirit.
“The event was born in 1955 in a German town which had been virtually razed by Allied forces and was struggling to heal from past injuries. Overwhelmed by the rough present, the people living there found it hard to envision the future. This is where we came from and the story of the institution’s birth still weighs on our shoulders. So clear parallels can be drawn with today’s Athens. At the same time, the circumstances surrounding the exhibition’s timing are of particular interest. This is a period in which everything is changing, both in Europe and the world in general. The migration issue, for instance, is something which concerns us all. What makes Athens stand out is that its residents are not only dealing with practical, daily problems, but existential issues as well,” Kulenkampff told Kathimerini.
What does Documenta stand for in the art world and why is the decision to hold a portion of the exhibition in Athens so important? Every five years, an estimated 1 million art lovers descend on Kassel to get the zeitgeist through art displays spread across the city for 100 days.
Staging a part of the exhibition in Athens is a genuine act of solidarity and support by one of the most serious and established institutions in the global art community. A number of participating artists are expected to visit Greece for a prep program including performances, talks and other activities. The material collected will subsequently be fused into the artists’ works. The Greek adventure will serve as a starting point, a source of stimuli for visual artists from around the world.
“This is the kind of interaction we are looking for in Athens. I recall the first time I visited Kassel,” noted Kulenkampff. “I was 15 and I believed that art was only about Giacometti, Picasso and Matisse. It was a revealing experience on the subject of human creativity and how we must look at things in an open-minded way. The exhibition has played a pivotal role in all this, how to understand each other and what is going on around us.
“My job is to make sure things run smoothly, to secure funding, to give participants the necessary tools in order for them to realize their work. We have already developed a local network, engaging in dialogue with Greece’s artistic community. We want our contribution to make a difference,” said Kulenkampff, echoing a position also adopted by Szymczyk with regard to Greece. Art, as opposed to “poornography.”