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Research Network for Transcultural Practices in the Arts and Humanities

Learning from documenta? On the transcultural approach to curating documenta 14

Barbara Lutz (Introductory paper for the Workshop of RNTP at the occasion of

documenta 14, 9th of June 2017, Kassel)

With the guiding principle “Learning from Athens” the 14th edition of documenta

is presented in the form of two nearly simultaneous, autonomous and at the

same time-related exhibitions in two historically very different and rather distant

cities, Kassel and Athens, respectively in two very different countries, Germany

in the middle of Europe and Greece on its outskirts.

With this curatorial approach Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk obviously goes

counter the basic parameters of the well-established exhibition institution, which

was founded in 1955 by artist and art educator Arnold Bode in Kassel and, since

then, is implemented as a periodical exhibition with a one-hundred-day duration

at its venue in Kassel. Moreover, he elevates documenta from its established

position as a hosting institution that usually invites artists and cultural creators

from all over the world to Kassel and assigns it a new role as guest with the aim

to manifest “the dissolution of barriers separating those who lack the simplest

means from those who are usually all-too-willing to give them lessons but

seldom a hand”, as he already articulated in 2013.

In this paper I would like to consider how the curatorial concept of documenta 14

challenges not only the institutional history, structure and status of documenta

but also how it resumes and transforms its initial understanding of an ethics of

cultural connectivity in times of crisis and traumatic historical ruptures for today.

From a transcultural perspective, I will critically examine, how far the curatorially

initiated terms of invitation and forms of collaboration for the exhibition between

Kassel and Athens can be acknowledged as a shared cultural practice within an

open process that goes beyond the simple logic of oppositions between North

and South or West and East, binaries of exclusion and inclusion, or any

essentializing and reducing criteria of identity and nation. According to this, I will

discuss how documenta 14 addresses fundamental questions of a critical art

education, which are strongly related to democratic conditions of participation

and the legitimacy to produce knowledge and meaning in a globally

interconnected and increasingly unpredictable world.


Barbara Lutz is an art mediator and cultural scholar based in Berlin. She studied

Cultural Sciences and Aesthetic Practice with focus on fine arts/photography at

the University of Hildesheim. After her studies she has worked for several

international projects such as Fotofestival Mannheim-Ludwigshafen-Heidelberg,

Berlin Photography Festival or the Table of Free Voices by the NGO dropping

knowledge. She has lectured at the University of Hildesheim and participated in

the training program Curatorial Practice and Exhibition Management at the

University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning. In her work she focuses both in theory

and practice on a current understanding of transculturality in the field of curating

and art mediation, and on the analysis of exhibitions in a global context with

special focus on documenta.