How I Tried to Give Modern Art a Chance

Every five years the sleepy town of Kassel in the north of the state of Hesse, Germany, turns into the artistic center of modern art: The Documenta is the most important and biggest exhibition of contemporary art worldwide!

However, I’m not very much into contemporary art. Don’t get me wrong. I love art. I love modern art, too.

I almost cried when I saw my first Jackson Pollock. I adore getting mesmerized by Rothko or overwhelmed by Rosenquist or tricked by Dalí. But: I’m a medieval art historian (well, almost). I have my problems with video installations and abstract, weird artists like Joseph Beuys (what’s with all that grease, dude?). My preferences are just mainly gospel illuminations and Gothic churches… but:

The Documenta is important. Hugely important. Every artist goes to Kassel, every buyer, every art lover. I mean, EVEN BRAD PITT WENT there this year. So. I HAD TO GO. Especially since my little sister Elena happens to live and study in Kassel. My mom and other sister Anneke joined in too and we were off on a challenging art experience at the 13th Documenta.

I have been to Kassel a few times before and loved how the city changed during the 90 days of documenta (13): The exhibition takes over the city. Art is everywhere. The art becomes part of the city, because the exhibits are not restricted to the museums. They are to be found all over the place: From the main train station to the city parks.

Everything could be art. You are constantly aware of art. So, somehow everything becomes art. I loved that feeling.

But to the actual exhibits… It was more or less what I expected. Some things amazed me, some made me laugh. Most left me wondering.

We started out in the largest exhibition hall, where we saw – empty rooms. Well, not entirely empty. Those rooms were windy. Yes, rooms full of wind. Now, what’s the art here? Messy hair? Freezing? Sorry, I didn’t get it…

More impressions were…
letters on huge doormat-thingies,

ways of processing of the documenta (13) leitmotiv Collapse and Recovery

or the extremely scary installation In Search of Vanished Blood by Nalini Malani (check out the videos on youtube – and let me say, it was even more spooky if you actually were in that very room!).

I liked the interactive room by Ida Applebroog where you could touch everything and take funny posters home with you:

I took a few of those posters home with me, because I admired the idea of visitors from all over the world taking them and bringing them back to their countries.

Who knows, maybe I’ll walk into some apartment somewhere and find a documenta (13) poster? You know, for example when Brad Pitt finally invites me over. Also, I’m always up for a free artsy souvenir.

What I really, really loved at documenta (13) was again so predictable: The Stone Books by Michael Rakowitz. Those were dedicated to medieval books that were lost during the World War II bombings and fires in Germany. The artist reconstructed the medieval books in stone and thus preserved their (now) indestructible memory… just gorgeous!

After strolling through several exhibition halls, we really needed a break and searched for a place to sit down in the park in front of the Kassel’s orangery. But, as I said, art was everywhere…

When we saw a round bench-thing around a little hill with pullulating weeds on it, where a lot of other people where sitting, we could only think about sitting down there as well – to relax our “museum-legs”. Luckily, Elena could inform us, that this hill was a part of the Documenta exhibits, too…

So, jup, we are SITTING ON ART here! I’m sorry to inform you that I really have no clue what the weed hill was about – but after all it was a nice spot to enjoy the warm September sun.

In a nutshell, I had a great time exploring an artistic field that was rather new to me… I must admit, I was shaking my head A LOT. But nonetheless, it was a wonderful experience to see a city totally taken over by art. I will definitely come back for the 14th Documenta.

See you in five years, modern art!
Until then, I’ll be in my little medieval parallel universe!