dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel, Germany Art Exhibition (1 of 3)

dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel, Germany Art Exhibition (1 of 3)

Originally published on my A Travel for Taste blog on Monday, August 20, 2012

This is the first part of a three-part journal of my trip north to see a famous art exhibit:

On the last day of July I executed my plan to see the world famous dOCUMENTA(13)  contemporary art exhibit. Documenta started in 1955 and occurs every 5 years for 100 days in Kassel, Germany. This year is the 13th edition – hence the (13) in the name.

I heard about this phenomenon in a roundabout way. My great friend Evelyn in Florida sent me a message last year about meeting a German artist at a local art gallery opening. The German artist gave her some info about dOCUMENTA and she thought I might be interested. Might I! I have to admit that I’d never heard of dOCUMENTA before Evelyn’s email, but it sounded like it would be right up my alley.

So I hopped a train and headed north to Kassel – about a 2 1/2 hour ride. Kassel is referred to, when it is referred to at all, as an industrial city. So I wasn’t expected anything charming or quaint. The train station was large and modern, if a bit dismal:

But on the floor there were indications I was getting close to my destination:

On the wall was something I’d seen in Frankfurt before: a mechanism by which you can purchase train tickets on your mobile phone. The way I understand it, you can touch a mobile phone to the red dot on the touchpoint to check in and check out at train stations. At the end of the month, the train company sends you a bill for whatever trips you made. I understand they have begun using iPhone and Android apps for this. Pretty neat!

Just out the front door of the train station was a giant tram station. I hopped Tram 3 to get to my exhibit.

On the way I saw a little of Kassel; it turned out to be not as bleak as I’d expected. Some of the architecture was quite interesting and a whole district that the tram passed through on my 15-minute journey looked to be apartments and shops built in former factories or warehouses with wonderful two-tone brick exteriors.

Now I ask you, who among us would go to a hairdresser whose name is pronounced “doo-doo?”

I arrived at Friedrichsplatz, my stop, and stepped off the tram. There was a portable building set up as the ticket office, so I went there immediately, purchased my ticket for 20€ (about $25) and also got the guidebook for another 24€. The guidebook presented biographical info, art characterizations and pictures of each artist’s work in both German and English. You can imagine how thick this book is when you know there are over 300 artists involved in this gig.

It was about 11:00 or so and I was hungry, so I set out in this commercial shopping neighborhood to find some lunch before I went into the exhibit. There were many restaurants and chain stores around. Along the way I discovered that Germans call their version of T.J. Maxx T.K. Maxx:

I found an Italian place called Avanti with attractive outdoor seating under a big tree and white market umbrellas:   

The service there was great and I treated myself to a wonderfully fresh salad with sautéed chicken and mushrooms:

During lunch I leafed through the dOCUMENTA(13) guidebook. I found it very thorough, with a page devoted to each artist and color photos of their work appearing in the exhibit. The entire exhibit is installed in eight different locations throughout Kassel, as well as in other cities around the world (Kabul, Afghanistan; Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt; Banff, Canada). The guidebook listed all artists in each location, which is great.

The main thing I noticed about this book, however, was the rather difficult writing style. It was very pretentious and approached being overinflated at every turn. And now that I look at it, the exhibit website is very similar. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the overlying impression I had after seeing the installations as well.

Here’s an example of a description from the guidebook:

In his video installations, Omer Fast examines the dialectics between fact and fiction in film. Undermining the logic of linear narrative, he studies the way in which stories are constructed and told, and the transformation processes to which they are subjected when passed along and retold. As in Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon (1950), one story is interpreted through a multitude of voices – plus all means of off-kilter editing. Deconstructing film by exposing its inherent manipulations – casting, doubling, looping, displacing, translating, subtitling – Fast’s works shift between various levels of documentation and fiction, reportage and reenactment, eyewitnessing and acting. In the double-channel installation Spielberg’s List (2003), he interrogates both the extras and the production processes of Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama Schindler’s List (1993), creating a multilayered crossover of fictionalized memory and memorized fiction in which genres and realities are blurred and conflated.

Now, I like to read, but this stuff made me tired trying to keep up with the vocabulary. Very often, I found the opinions set forth in these descriptions were very leading. On top of that, every description I read had a very negative feel to it.

After lunch I walked back a couple of blocks to the exhibit. Although the exhibit takes place in so many different places, the main venue is the Fridericianum Museum. I knew I didn’t have time to visit all the sites, so I concentrated on this one.

The Fridericianum dates from 1779 and, unlike many other museums, was intended as a museum from the beginning. It originally housed the Hessian state library, art and antique collections, natural history specimens and many other categories of items. Most of the collections were moved to other museums around the turn of the 20th Century. The extensive library remained there and was bombed out in WWII.

I’m so happy to report that they rebuilt this lovely structure, apparently staying true to its original design. Here you can see the line of visitors in front of me, and it was only a Tuesday! Notice the number of small children around. Europeans seem to often bring their smaller children to museums.

Fortunately the line moved quickly, and I was inside in about 10 minutes. The building is stunningly beautiful, so it was a pleasant wait while I studied the architecture.

Just in front of the steps they have bricks inscribed with the names of people who have contributed to the museum. I was very surprised to see these two names:

I tried to find some information about this on the interwebs but have so far found nothing. The rest of the names I saw were not movie stars nor were they anyone I had ever heard of.

Well, I’ve brought you to the door, but you’ll have to wait til next post to see what I saw inside the museum. Fortunately, they allowed the use of cameras inside, so I have some photos to show you of the exhibits. Some of it great, some of it not so great, but I hope you will find it interesting. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for Part Deux…

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