October 8th, 2014 10.08.2014

documenta 14: Athens 2017


Led by Artistic Director of documenta 14, Adam Szymczyk, it was announced yesterday that the 2017 edition of the exhibition would take place equally between its established territory and a second site: Athens, Greece. Chicago-based curators Dieter Roelstrate, Manilow Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, and Monika Szewczyk, Visual Arts Program Curator at the Logan Center for the Arts, were announced among the first members of the documenta 14 team.

In the official release announcing plans for Athens, two emotions arose out of the idea to split the exhibition in two far-reaching geographical locations—loss and longing. Or, the impossibility of being two places at once. In an attempt to counter the “normative assumption that such an exhibition must sustain the unity of action, place, and time,” Szymczyk introduces this dynamic, yet widely untested model. This is not an exhibition in two chapters; it is an exhibition in multivalent chapters. Though Athens is set to open in April of 2017, and two months later in Kassel on June 10, the exhibitions are timed to run parallel to one another. The idea here being: both exhibitions exist at once, and we do not.

It will be stimulating to see how this dialectic shakes out—documenta has already stated its goal in learning Athens, meaning that the plan for involving Greece will not simply act as a stage for Kassel’s preconceived plans to take place in the city’s various historic venues. The announcement of a second site for 2017 was in fact made after a symposium which took place this past week entitled “documenta 14, Kassel: Learning from Athens” at the Academy of Fine Arts in the German city. Over the next three years, Szymczyk has expressed his goals of producing knowledge from both sites as it relates to the exhibition. How exactly this will manifest is yet to be determined.

Athens is of course a very politicized choice—a symbol of the West that also faces Africa, the Middle East, and Asia—but promises to be depicted as far from an isolated case. The current economic struggle is “emblematic of the fast-changing global situation,” which Greece represents within a highly concentrated sample size of the cultural dilemmas all of Europe must face as a whole. Comparing the two cities by using this current struggle, Szymczyk traces the similarities between the state of Kassel in its inception, in 1955, and its battle against trauma of the Nazi regime, and Athens now. He quotes that it was precisely those factors—toward a redefinition of their locale—that allowed documenta to develop into the product that met its own demand. Szymczyk urges that in order for documenta to remain relevant, this sense of urgency must now be found elsewhere. The abstract comparison between Athens and Kassel, and the necessities shared between these two metropolises, while indeed starkly different in cause, is a pretty brilliant concept.