It’s easily the art world’s most cerebral event, and its best-kept secret. Curators vie for the distinction of having a project at the rarefied documenta, which has traditionally been held in Kassel, Germany. A little-known outpost in the country’s northern Hesse region, the town’s history has included moments of celebrity (the Brothers Grimm lived and wrote their eponymous fairytales here) and notoriety (as a concentration sub-camp for Dachau).
Kassel also has Europe’s first public museum, founded in 1779, which survived the bombings of World War II that razed most of the city.
Rebuilt in the Fifties, what the city lacks in architectural beauty, it makes up for during documenta, with its breadth of events and projects that defy and challenge our notions of art and its influence. Among the more notable projects at the forthcoming edition is one on hunger, co-curated by Natasha Ginwala and featuring works by Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, Zainul Abedin and Sunil Janah, on the Bengal famine of 1943-44.
Held once every four years, documenta has chosen to split its 14th edition between Kassel and Athens, Greece – the result of a bailout package for the Greek government. Cynically (or cleverly, depending on your perspective) titled “Learning From Athens” by artistic director Adam Szymczyk, documenta will share the programming in more salubrious environs. Though purists who will not want any distractions might prefer the virtues of Kassel over Athens.