Documenta14 & Curatorial Innovation

IMG_8423The innovation of Documenta14  did not lie in the fact that it happened equally in two cities. Documenta 11 and 13 had not taken place in cities other than Kassel, nor was it that the highest percentage of the artists came from the periphery of the Western world. Documenta12 had a high rate of artists from the periphery. The same concept had been already shown in the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre in 1989 at the Centre Georges Pompidou by the curator Jean-Hubert Martin – a theme about post-colonialism with artists from the periphery of the Western art world (Magiciens de la Terre, 2017). The innovation laid firstly in the fact that this Documenta supported a large number of artists who were not represented by commercial galleries and they worked in non-material, ephemeral and social practices. Documenta14 embedded fully the curatorial activism as defined by Maura Reilly ᾽to give voice to those who have been historically silenced or omitted altogether’ (2017). Secondly, the working relationship between the artistic director, his team and the artists was cooperative; the artistic director and the team took care to listen closely and carefully to the artists, rather than imposing a top-down curatorial will as the artists by themselves stated that we understood this exhibition to be a listening documenta’ (E-Flux conversations, 2017a). Thirdly, it was an apatride exhibition, at least in the Athens exhibition, in that there were no dates and place of birth/origin of the artists, an idea that the artists themselves asked for (Stedelijk Museum, 2016). Fourthly, it concentrated on the language and stories that each artist from the periphery had faced and the hardship they had overcome. The artists had to bring their personal stories in every form, artwork, performance, music, into the exhibition and tried to be inclusive as well as specific, which means they had to concentrate on the dominant narrative of the Athens model and on the complex narrative, which was that of Athens and Kassel. The juxtaposition of stories from all over the globe could be disorienting but was precisely the point of the structure of this exhibition (E-Flux conversations, 2017a). Finally, the event was part of a process of acquiring experience for all the participants; this fact could erase any claim and criticism of the reviewers about the event. For example, one of the reviewers, Sarah Crown, wrote about the banned books in The Parthenon of Books ‘by being pinned and mounted salon style, the volumes became untouchable and unreadable symbols, which is precisely what the fascists made of them’ (Cowan, 2017). In the last week of the exhibition, all those books were given out for free to the visitors. This high complexity of the show in real time created an interesting fact that nobody could have seen the same thing and even if that happened the time would have changed the initial impression. Nothing is static, precisely as the people interact in the virtual world on the Internet.

Extract from “Documenta14: Learning From Athens: How to Unlearn What to Expect From A Contemporary Art Exhibition” MA Thesis by Dia Mexi, 2018


Reference List

E-flux conversations (2017a) A statement by the artists of documenta 14 [Online]Available from: [Accessed 10 October 2017].

Cowan, S. (2017) ‘Documenta’s False Optimism’ The Paris Review, [Online] Available from:   optimism/ [Accessed 24 November 2017].

Reilly, M.(2017) What is curatorial activism? Artnews [Online] Available from: [Accessed 3 December 2017].

Stedelijk Museum (2016) Talk: Documenta14 Learning from Athens [Online video] Available from:–learning-from-athens [Accessed 14 September 2017].