DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

d1 1955

The first documenta, created by Kassel painter and academy professor Arnold Bode in 1955, was an unexpected world success. The exhibition, which was launched as the accompanying program to the Bundesgartenschau (German Federal Horticultural Show) that was held in Kassel that year, took an historical and documentary/reconstructive approach. It showed the development of the major artistic groups since the beginning of the century: Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Blauer Reiter, Futurism, Pittura Metafisica etc. In total, 570 works by 148 artists from six different countries were showcased, and pre-War Modernism was deliberately displayed in all its European ramifications. Bode impressively highlighted the works in the ruins of the Museums Fridericianum, today still the main building for the documenta, whose provisional premises he outfitted with what at the time were considered extremely modern materials (such as plasterboard and PVC curtains).
In terms of the exhibition concept, the documenta expressly manifested its goal of directly referencing the Nazis' propaganda exhibition "Degenerate Art" held in 1937 – in order to restore to prominence the works, styles and artists so downgraded in the German public's estimation as a result of the 1937 show. For example, Wilhelm Lehmbruck's sculpture „Kneelers“ (1911), which the Nazis had placed in a central location in the 1937 show, was again placed in the entrance area of the Fridericianum, but this time with full dignity in the stairwell rotunda. This attempt to reverse the way specific artists had been considered and thus recontextualize their work was supplemented by a centrally positioned walls of photos with portraits of the artists, thus celebrating the individual creative minds behind the works.
Werner Haftmann, art historian and the conceptual brain behind documenta 1-3, described the intention of the first documenta as follows: "It should be seen as a broad, if initial attempt, to regain international contacts across the board and thus at home re-engage in a conversation that has been interrupted for so long, as it were.“ Haftmann believed that the exhibition also had a didactic brief: “It is devised with our young generation in mind, and the artists, poets and thinkers they follow, so that they may recognize what foundations have been laid for them, what inheritance they must nurture and what inheritance must be overcome.“

Thus, alongside a retrospective glance at the past 50 years, attention was also directed toward contemporary art. The idea was, on the one hand, to take intellectual stock of things, to enquire what possibilities there were for taking up the artistic positions of the first half of the century and, on the other, to identify the role young German art could play in the international scene. In this regard, d1 was the first post-War forum where German and other European artists met again.


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