Over 200 artists and curators who participated in the last five editions of documenta have signed a letter asking that documenta’s supervisory structure be reformed to move away from a focus on profit to the detriment of the autonomy of the project. The letter asks for five steps: 1) Reaffirm commitment to decolonizing all arts and educational institutions. 2) A new supervisory structure where elected public officials are joined by representatives of contemporary culture, education, and museum visitors. 3) No pre-existing conditions set to prevent the inclusion of geographic sites outside Germany. 4) Fully fund the development of the documenta archive, documenta institute, and the public art program. 5) Maintain and strengthen the non-profit status of documenta gGmbH.
The signatories include participants in numerous documentas, including Hans Haacke (d5, 7, 8, X, 14), Sanja Ivekovic (d8, 11, 12, 13, 14), Amar Kanwar (d11, 12, 13, 14), Michel Auder (d13, 14), Christian Boltanski (d5, 6), Pavel Braila (d11, 14), Johan Grimonprez (dX, 14), Geeta Kapur (dX, 14), Annette Messager (d6, 11), Walid Raad (d11, 13), Ahlam Shibli (d12, 14), Lois Weinberger (dX, 14), Artur Żmijewski (d12, 14), Rike Frank (d12), Octavio Zaya (d12), Leeza Ahmady (d13), Shaina Anand (d13), Ayreen Anastas (d13), Sam Durant (d13), Rene Gabri (d13), Dora Garcia (d13), Michael Rakowitz (d13), Akinbode Akinbiyi (d14), Maria Campos-Pons (d14), Nikhil Chopra (d14), Pélagie Gbaguidi (d14), Gauri Gill (d14), David Harding (d14), Bouchra Khalili (d14), Ibrahim Mahama (d14), Narimane Mari (d14), Angela Melitopoulos (d14), Naeem Mohaiemen (d14), Rosalind Nashashibi (d14), Nathan Pohio (d14), Roee Rosen (d14), Mounira El Solh (d14), Annie Sprinkle (d14), Jakob Ullmann (d14), Cecilia Vicuna (d14), Stanley Whitney (d14), etc.
Also on the list are signatories from Art Institute of Chicago (Hendrik Folkerts), Art Workshop Lazareti (Slaven Tolj), Bengal Foundation (Tanzim Wahab, Hadrien Diez), Bonniers Konsthall (Theodor Ringborg), C.G. Jung Institute (Gabriela Calchi Novati), Casco Art Institute (Binna Choi), Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo (Manuel Segade), Columbia University (Neni Panourgia), Contour Biennial 8 (Natasha Ginwala), Contour Biennial 9 (Natasa Petresin-Bachelez), Estonian Academy of Art (Sten Ojavee), Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (Emanuela De Cecco), French National Institute for Art History (Eric de Chassey), Gulf Labor Coalition (Guy Mannes-Abott), Istanbul Biennale 11 (WHW), Kunsthalle Athena (Marina Fokidis), Kunsthalle Basel (Beatrice Hatebur), Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart (Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler), Manifesta Foundation (Marieke van Hal), Mousse (Edoardo Bonaspetti), Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society (Dieter Roelstrate), Occupy Museums (Noah Fischer), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Jose De Nordenflycht), Pratt Institute (Todd Ayoung), Princeton University (Hal Foster), Santiniketan (Sanchayan Ghosh), Savvy Contemporary (Bonaventure Ndikung), School of Visual Arts (Bettina Funcke), Sciences-Po in Paris (Elisabeth Lebovici), Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation (Axel Wieder), Van Abbemuseum (Charles Esche), Panteion University (Anna Papaeti).
FULL TEXT OF LETTER
As participants in, and visitors to, various editions of the international art exhibition documenta X, 11, 12, (13) and 14, we have been deeply worried by the public conflict between the board of supervisors of documenta gGmbH, and those who built and participated in documenta 14. This ongoing conflict endangers the future autonomy of documenta as a radical exhibition, pushing it toward the same profit-above-everything motive that has corroded the political potential and emancipatory possibility of contemporary arts. We are compelled to write to propose an improved structure for documenta that does not prioritize revenue above all other priorities, and defends its’ future artistic and curatorial autonomy and progressive political mission.
Documenta 14 (Adam Szymczyk), building on the work of the previous four editions of documenta X (Catherine David), documenta 11 (Okwui Enwezor), documenta 12 (Roger Buergel / Ruth Noack), and dOCUMENTA (13) (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev), expanded non-western perspectives in contemporary culture, maintained distance from the commercial art market, and proposed new political geographies by having two equal size exhibitions in Athens and Kassel. However, recent public statements [see links at end] suggest that the history and mission of documenta is not fully appreciated, and therefore not adequately defended, by the current board of supervisors.
Documenta was founded in 1955 on the remains of the city of Kassel that was one of the first sites of Nazi violence in 1933 and 1938– it was an exhibition whose mission, as imagined by founder Arnold Bode, was to encourage conversations in the contemporary arts that can oppose the spectres of nationalism, fascism and contemporary neo-nazism. The current board, comprising of elected officials (from SPD, CDU, GRÜNE, LINKE, and Independent) have remained silent while the far-right nationalist party AfD has called documenta 14 public artwork “entstellte Kunst,” evoking the Nazi term “degenerate art,” and sued the curatorial and management team, and the former Lord Mayor of Kassel who chaired the board for previous 14 years, in an act of intimidation.
The supervisory board ignored the voices of dissent from the representatives of Kulturstiftung des Bundes (Federal Foundation for Culture) in the board, and technocratically reduced documenta to a commercial enterprise. The current structure of documenta has shown itself to be unsuitable to the current political moment, lacking understanding of the larger significance of documenta, and the new concerns of contemporary art audiences around the world.
We therefore ask for the following:
- Reaffirm a commitment in the structure of documenta, and implement specific steps toward, an end to eurocentrism, re-orienting towards the global south, decolonizing all arts and educational institutions, and opposition to war industry, institutional racism, and resurgent fascism.
- A new supervisory structure should be designed for documenta, where elected public officials are joined by representatives of Contemporary Culture, Education, and International museum visitors.
- No pre-existing conditions should be set to prevent the inclusion of other geographic sites outside Germany. Experimentation with the form and format of the exhibition must remain one of the essential freedoms of documenta.
- Documenta should fully fund the development of the documenta archive, documenta institute, the public art program and organize these institutions based on the trajectory set by documenta X, 11, 12, (13) and 14 that contributed to profound changes that impacted understanding of art in our age.
- The non-profit status of documenta gGmbH should be maintained.