DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

d4 1968


The run-up to documenta 4 in 1968 was riddled with debate and controversy, with the key question being the very future of the documenta. The politicization of society in the late 1960s also made itself felt in Kassel – red flags and groups of people chanting slogans meant that the opening speeches could not be held. Moreover, internally documenta 4 underwent a generational conflict and a debate on the fragile relationship of aesthetic judgment and democratic forms of reaching a consensus . The exhibition's organization was entrusted to a so-called documenta council. At the end of the preparations, the council had 24 members, who were sub-divided into various working committees (e.g., for painting, sculpture, „ambient“, etc.). The difficulty of reaching aesthetic judgments given such committee democracy and administration, as well as the sometimes great skepticism among some of the older members (including, for example, Werner Haftmann) that consensus-based aesthetic judgments were possible at all, often ended in a dead-end. Jean Leering, the young director of the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, who was appointed head of the painting committee after the death of two council members, took advantage of the situation and emerged alongside Bode as the decisive figure heading the exhibition.

In deliberate contrast to its precursor, d4 presented itself as the „youngest documenta there ever was“. All forms of retrospective were eschewed, and the exhibition concentrated completely on current art activities in the 1960s, doing full justice to the plethora of forms of artistic expression. d4 conclusively opened itself up for the dominance of American art, which took center stage in terms of space with large-sized works of Post-Painterly Abstraction and color field painting, and also offered a new understanding of our relationship to reality with Minimal Art and Pop Art – revealing Haftmann's hypothesis on „abstraction as a world language“ to be a historical model. The newly-devised section on artists' environments in the Neue Galerie – artistic spaces in which visitors are able to move and, as with Edward Kienholz's „Roxy's“ (1961), a reconstruction of a 1950s US brothel, were compelled to shed any distanced stance– were the focus of attention at the show. The now well-established form of presenting sculptures outside the Orangerie was changed, as the architectonic framing of the works was abandoned and the works placed instead in loose groups on the Karlswiese meadows. Christo's „5,600 Cubic Meter Package“ – 85 meters high and brashly placed in the middle of the meadows– was a landmark for the new understanding of art that no one could miss seeing.

Given the breadth of forms of artistic expression, informed by the widest variety of different conceptions of material and reality and by an increasing focus on theoretical issues, the exhibition organizers realized the crucial problem, namely that viewers' habits of perceiving artworks had not changed over the previous decades. In order to bridge the distance between modern art production and its reception, and no longer leave the viewer out in the cold, documenta 4 for the first time featured a „visitors' school“ led by Bazon Brock, conveying to those attending an understanding for the reception of art as an act of labor in its own right, and explaining new ways of approaching contemporary art.