Documenta 14, Kassel Germany

Documenta is a contemporary art exhibition that takes every 5 years in Kassel Germany.  This year the event began in April in Athens, Greece and opened this past month in Kassel.  The show’s theme is around the crises of immigration and finances particularly the connection between Greece and Germany.  Germany is one of the strongest financial countries under the European Union and Greece is one of the weakest.  Greece has also become a portal for immigrants coming from the Middle East, in particular, Syria.

The installations are spread throughout Kassel, some are inside and others outside.  It is not that clear on how to experience anything and the signage is weak at best.  The good news is that many of the art leaders have come and posted the highlights which we happily followed.  The Fridericianum hosts the collection of the National Museum of the Arts in Athens.  This building has been the primary venue in the past but not this year.  I liked the concept of moving all the work from Athens to Kassel to bridge the communities together.

One of the best installations is this Parthenon of Books.  It is constructed with over 100,000 currently or formerly banned books.  It is also on top of the same location where the Nazis burned books in 1933.

Food in Germany has never been that interesting although Berlin is slowly getting there.  Kassel is hardly a mecca of creative good tasting food but we did manage to grab a decent Bratwurst at the event.

I believe I found the nicest place in Kassel to have dinner, Voit Restaurant.  Michelin Starred!  Casual, contemporary and great service.  There were definitely others there who came for Documenta.  There was a group of people from the art world next to us.  The highlight was definitely the main course of wagyu beef and veggies.

Day 2 we got up and walked 8 miles.  I am a bit obsessed with my iHealth app on my phone.  We started at Rokkeberg for breakfast.  Such a great spot.  Reminded me of Copenhagen but much cleaner and buttoned up.

Then we walked.  Our first stop was at a former underground train station.  There is a small container sitting in the middle of a square that people are entering.  You have to do a double take because people keep going in and the container could only fit maybe 8 people but when you enter, you go downstairs to a huge abandoned train station. Not surprising that every piece from video to paintings to drawings to a tent is all about immigration.

The coolest install was at the Neue Neue Gallery.  It is in the back of a brutalist Post Office.  The main hall is filled with iron ingots in sacks from American Artist Dan Peterman that are placed all around the other exhibits.  My favorite install here was a series of photos of a family.  A Greek man came to Kassel and found love.  They married, opened a Greek restaurant, and built a family together.  If more and more people create those connections then certainly hatred of others would ebb.

There is an installation of a variety of artists in an abandoned glass commercial space.  Each glass storefront had a different artist in them.  My favorite was of Nassib’s Bakery.  A Lebanese artist who as a child worked in his family bakery that worked insanely hard during strife to just get the place up and running then within days find the bakery bombed.  His ideal recipe was posted as his perfect pizza.  It basically sums up Documenta 14.

1 – Extra Olive Oil from Greece, 2 – Dried za’atar from Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan so each man’ouche can be surprisingly different,  3 – Freshly ground sumac from Izmir, 4 – Dried pistachios from Aleppo, 5 – Dried sesame seeds from Izmir, 6 – Extra salt from the Mediterranean, 7 – White or whole wheat flour from Germany, 8 – Some tap water from Kassel to make the dough.

The last installation we went to was done by a Ghana artist who covered the Torwache venue with tattered jute sacks stitched together with the thought that we need to create new forms, new thoughts around the day.

Lunch was at a local Doner Kabab place, a Lebanese/Germany sandwich.  Shaved chicken mixed with a ranch like spicy sauce and fresh cabbage, tomatoes, cilantro then wrapped in a pita.  Josh is eating these daily in Berlin.

We got on the train and took a 3-hour journey back to spend the night in Berlin before heading back to Paris the next day.  What struck me as the most interesting thing about Kassel was not the art but the city.  It is a city of over 200,000 people.  Germany is a socialist country so not surprising that the town is predominantly middle class, you don’t see wealth and you don’t see poor.  There is a middle east population that you can see on the street but also in the shops such as the Lebanese Market.  That is really good to see.  It is not a place where I would usually travel to so to get into a town in the middle of Germany is just eye-opening to see how people live.  Documenta was a worthy trip and the statement that they are trying to make is amplifying daily in the art world.  There is nothing I can point to as memorable but walking 8 hours with Josh and Fred, discussing the city, the culture, immigration, politics and everything else is perhaps what art is all about.