After one hundred days, the organizers of documenta fifteen, which was overshadowed by massive allegations of anti-Semitism, have drawn a positive balance despite the minus number of visitors. As the documenta gGmbH announced on Monday, the world art exhibition attracted 738,000 people to Kassel.
According to the announcement, Managing Director Alexander Farenholtz was satisfied: "To have reached a number of visitors that is only about 17 percent below the numbers for documenta 14 in 2017 is, in my opinion, in view of the planning and implementation in times of the pandemic and the consider the associated decline in long-distance and group travel a success." Five years ago, around 891,500 people came to Kassel, and 339,000 more people to the second location in Athens.
For the artistic direction of Ruangrupa, the exhibition, which ended on Sunday evening, was a stage on the Lumbung journey, the documenta gGmbH announced. The concept of the collective is based on the Indonesian Lumbung architecture. "Lumbung" in the island nation is the word for a communal rice barn where the surplus harvest is stored for the benefit of the community. This tradition of sharing should be transferred to the world art exhibition in Kassel.
Months before the start of documenta fifteen, the curatorial collective and some invited artists had been accused of being associated with the anti-Israeli boycott movement BDS. Shortly after the opening of the exhibition, a work with anti-Semitic imagery was discovered and dismantled. Later, other works with anti-Jewish stereotypes caused outrage and prompted calls for the show to be stopped early.
Against the background of the scandal, Kassel's Mayor Christian Geselle (SPD) sharply criticized Ruangrupa on Sunday evening. As the artistic director of documenta fifteen, the collective should be accused of not fulfilling its curatorial responsibility in this debate and of having shied away from an open dialogue with critics, he said according to the press release. In addition, the curators dismissed the possibility of contextualizing controversial works too lightly.
The aim now must be to initiate a cultural-political debate and resume talks, emphasized Geselle, who is also the chairman of the supervisory board of documenta gGmbH. It is important to discuss at eye level "and to find balance and balance again". At the same time, the Lord Mayor reaffirmed his position on artistic freedom as an important fundamental right. Politics should never intervene in terms of content.
Geselle also emphasized the strong connection between documenta and the city of Kassel. "I will not tolerate attempts to drive a wedge between here. The documenta belongs to Kassel - yesterday, today and in the future." Kassel will also be a good host again for documenta 16 from June 12 to September 19, 2027.