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Culture

Germany's Premier Art Show Set to Dazzle

Long known as the Mecca of contemporary art - this year's Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany has a distinctly international flavor.

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The Documenta 11 will open its doors tomorrow at the municipal hall of Kassel, Germany

When art professor Arnold Bode initiated the first Documenta exhibition in 1955, Kassel was a small city on the fringes of West Germany and the Fridericianum Museum where the show was held was still in ruins from a wartime bombing.

Just two decades earlier, Nazi officials had purged German museums of art they considered "degenerate," including works by Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Käthe Kollwitz, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Many of these same artists – Ernst, Klee and Kandinsky among them – were represented at the first Documenta as Bode worked to make good on the decades of destruction.

Nearly half a century later, Documenta 11 is set to open June 8 in Kassel. The art fair is staged every five years and is a major date in the European art calendar, rivalling Venice's Biennale.

This time there will be five exhibition venues in town and works by more than 100 artists from around the world will be on display.

For the first time, Documenta will use an industrial building – a former brewery – for the show, essentially doubling the exhibition space and making it one of Europe’s largest art shows.

International platforms

Indeed this year's artistic director of Documenta 11, Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor (photo), set out to make it into an international event by staging a series of so-called platforms on different continents in the year leading up to the Kassel show.

Okwui Enwezor, Künstlerischer Leiter der Documenta 11

The intention of these platfroms, according to statement from Documenta officials, was "to bring the important artistic field to which Documenta 11 belongs in dialogue with other fields and cities."

The platforms were grouped according to theme: "Democracy Unrealized" in Vienna and Berlin; "Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and The Processes of Truth and Reconciliation" in New Delhi; "Créolité and Creolization" in St. Lucia, and "Under Siege: Four African Cities" in Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa and Lagos.

Art in a social context

In Kassel, meanwhile, the show will include a broad spectrum of artists who are dealing with social problems in different parts of the world.

"Where an artist comes from should not come into question," said Enwezor, a poet, critic and curator who is the publisher and founding editor of "Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art," which is co-published with the African Studies Center at Cornell University.

Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar, whose work deals with the situation on the border between the United States and Mexico, is one of the artists included in the show. New Yorker Lorna Simpson, who deals with race discrimination, and Belgian artist Luc Tuymans, who addresses issues of the colonial history of the Congo, are also included.

Multimedia performance

On June 8 and June 9, the theater-performance "Confessions of Zeno" by participating artist William Kentridge will take place at the Staatstheater Kassel.

Based on Italo Svevo’s novel La Coscienza di Zeno, the multimedia theater production uses puppetry, song, acting, music and video to explore experiences of labor and erotic pleasures of the European bourgeoisie prior to World War I.

Documenta 10, held in 1997, attracted a record 631,000 visitors and exhibition organizers are already warning about traffic jams and sold-out hotels during the first weeks of the show. Documenta 11 runs through September 15.

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