Last month, a group of New Museum curators and supporters traveled to Germany to visit Documenta 13—the art exhibition that takes over the city of Kassel every five years. This year’s iteration, organized by Carolyn Christov-Barkargiev, was one of the largest to date—not only sprawling across the city but also extending to satellite locations in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Banff, Canada. Although three days wasn’t enough time to see the entire exhibition, the group saw an overwhelming amount of work by artists both new and familiar.
Kassel’s Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) hosted projects that filled the storage areas, unused tracks, and administrative buildings with a range of works by international artists. One of the most striking projects was a new video installation by South African artist, William Kentridge—a parade of shadowy figures projected on the walls of the space that envelop the viewer.
The Hauptbahnhof was also the site of a kinetic installation by Korean artist, Haegue Yang—whose exhibition “Voice and Wind” was on view at the New Museum in 2010. This new work features the artist’s signature, hanging mechanized Venetian blinds, programmed by the artist to subtly animate and transform the disused train tracks.
For over forty years, the German artist Thomas Bayrle has been producing a body of work that examines industrial expansion, economic transformation, and global connectivity in his dizzying paintings and collages. His installation in the Documenta-Halle brought together new and old work in film, collage, and kinetic sculpture. Bayrle’s work will also be on view at the New Museum this summer in the exhibition “Ghosts in the Machine.”
Adrián Villar Rojas was one of the standout artists from this year’s New Museum Triennial, “The Ungovernables.” For Documenta 13, he produced an equally stunning sculptural installation that took over the remnants of an old winery on a hillside in Kassel. As we made our way up the hillside, each successive terrace contained a variety of abstract and figurative sculptural forms scattered among the vegetation and architectural ruins. The artist guided our New Museum group through the installation, which moved from abstract formal elements to evocative figurative elements as we climbed to the top.
Built in the late seventeenth century and redesigned a hundred years later, Karlsaue Park is one of the most picturesque parts of Kassel and one of the only parts of the city that escaped extensive bombing during World War II. For Documenta 13, it was also the site of a number of artists’ projects, which visitors encountered nestled amongst the trees and meadows. Sam Durant’s Scaffold brought an ominous presence to the park with a seemingly simple architectural structure collaged from the designs of a number of historical gallows.
Exiting Karlsaue Park, our group traversed a series of floating gardens containing Swiss chard by the artist Christian Philipp Müller. Installed on a series of barges from the Cold War, the work unites political and agricultural history, as well as provided a convenient bridge to the next destination on our itinerary.
Although often derided as one of Germany’s less aesthetically pleasing cities, our group found a number of picturesque moments throughout the trip, not least of which was a farewell dinner. Situated next to the Hercules monument in the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, the venue provided a spectacular vista over the city and was a fitting site to bid farewell to Documenta.