Originally published on my A Travel for Taste blog on September 4, 2012

This journal is the third and last installment of my trip to Kassel, Germany, to see the dOCUMENTA(13) international contemporary art exhibit. If you remember, it takes place every five years and involves artists worldwide. The installments are spread over eight locations in Kassel and, this year (2012), also in Canada, Afghanistan and Egypt.

I left you just as I had exited the Fridericianum Museum, the main venue in Kassel. I ducked around the corner to the Ottoneum, which was opened in 1608 as the first theater in Germany. It has been used since as a military chapel, a cannon foundry, art museum and observatory. Today it serves as the natural history museum. Here you can see it around the corner of the Fridericianum:

As with the exhibits in the Fridericianum, I can’t say that I was much impressed by the artwork presented here, either. The first room had a pallet of what looked like bars pressed out of dirt and compost. After reading a lengthy description of these bars, called “Soil-erg,” which purported to be a natural, green product that could be used as everything from building material to fuel, the last line of this very detailed description stated that it was just an artist’s conception, not a real product. Really? At least it didn’t smell as bad as it looked.

Another work by the same artist, an American, was a framed, ragged outline of an American flag that had been composted! What? Apparently she is trying to make a statement about the political aspects of agriculture worldwide (according to the bombastic guidebook). I think she may be trying to draw attention to her fieldwork in developing ways to increase agricultural production in poor areas, which is commendable. However, personally I think there are more positive ways to do it.

Honestly, I was really fed up with the holier-than-thou flavor of this rather unorganized exhibit and skimmed over the rest of the artworks in the Ottoneum. But, I was in a natural history museum, which was great! There was a preserved skeleton of an elephant and tons of biological specimens. One of my favorite rooms was this traditional one:

In contrast was a very modern display in the next room, a cinemagraph:

Briefly, a cinemagraph is a series of still photographs converted to .gif files and combined in a video loop. You’ve probably seen very small examples of looped .gifs in internet forum posts. Some people use an animated avatar like a smiley that moves; this is basically what a cinemagraph is, but in a cinemagraph, the looped images are still photos, not smileys. Most of the image does not move from frame to frame, but one element does. In this one, the plants were stationary, but the water rippled and moved. It even had an accompanying sound track of insect and bird songs. 

Cinemagraphs can be gorgeous! Check out this link for some great examples. I can’t wait to try it myself!

But moving on. I left the Ottoneum and took a turn about the rest of the large area around the Fridericianum. I was really not interested in seeing more artwork. It was too depressing. Plus I would have had to backtrack and redeposit my camera bag at the coat check room. But I’m glad I took the walk.

Here’s a picture of the complimentary yellow bus you could ride to the other seven locations in Kassel with a valid dOCUMENTA ticket. Behind the bus you can see the State Theater, the modern, glass-fronted building. It also housed artwork.

On my stroll to the State Theater, I passed this art installation:

You can see it’s a van and the work is by an Australian Aboriginal artist. There is a video screen depicting an Aboriginal woman working on a handmade blanket. Apparently this is a typical scene in certain Australian cities. The woman and her family live in the van and move it around selling handmade goods to tourists. The items in front of the screen blend into the video scene. It was precise! The van is moved around Kassel during the exhibit, just like it would be in Australia.

Another building just next to the van and beside the State Theater is the Documenta-Halle, which was built in 1992 to house artwork for the exhibits. In addition, they hold seminars, workshops, performances and such there. It was glass-fronted just like the State Theater and I could see into the building. There were long rows of wooden tables. The drawings or paintings on the table were covered with what looked like big blankets or sheets of leather. Visitors had to lift the covers to see the artwork underneath. They all looked like they were at a peep show – or maybe it was me!  

Also on the grounds below the hill was the Orangerie, dating from 1700. It was built as a royal summer palace and a winter greenhouse (orange trees inside = “orangerie”). In 1992 it became home to Kassel’s Cabinet of Astronomy and Physics, with an observatory and displays of historic science instruments. At this time it also had dOCUMENTA artworks.

In the adjoining park was what looked like a big tree holding up a boulder. It’s actually a sculpture and the tree is made of bronze.

On the extensive grounds of this venue area were various other displays and several musical performances. In front of the Fridericianum was a cacophony of displays that looked like political protests. I still do not know if they were truly protests or part of the dOCUMENTA exhibit, but every political issue was covered, from green initiatives to refugees to oppression worldwide. 

I was wiped out and it was time to go home. I can’t say I was thrilled to have seen this version of dOCUMENTA, but I’m glad I went. I have to say that acquiring the guidebook was the best part of the trip for me. The information I’m able to give you in this journal is mostly from the guidebook and I have a way of seeing what was in the other locations that I did not visit. Plus I always love adding a good book to my personal library.

Also, from the guidebook, I learned that the wonderfully cool breeze in the otherwise-empty foyer of the Fridericianum was actually an artwork installation! Would have been nice to know that at the time.

In addition, the sheer logistics of this exhibit was very impressive. Can you imagine coordinating hundreds of artists and shipping artwork, installing it, preparing literature, advertising, compiling catalogs and guidebooks, hiring workers, and tending to the millions of other tiny details? As a former very-small-art-gallery director, I can appreciate this vast effort.

However, I was feeling kind of bad that I came away from the visit with a rather negative impression overall. When I got home I did an internet search for reviews of the exhibit because I thought maybe there was something I missed. I felt validated after reading several of them, though, because they seemed to reinforce my own impression. This one in particular from the New York Times was representative of most of the reviews and reflected my own feelings.

However, my impression of the trip has been enhanced by writing this journal about it. From reading the guidebook and doing research, I have a deeper understanding of what I experienced. I’m looking forward to the next one in five years, in which I plan to spend a couple of days in Kassel and visit more of the venues. Also, I’ll read the guidebook BEFORE I go see anything!

I hope you enjoyed visiting Kassel with me. Stay tuned for my next weekly journal!

Photo for No Apparent Reason:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 1 MB. You can upload: image, document. Drop files here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.