Documenta 14 / by Mark Gubb

I'm currently sat on the floor outside the toilets on a DB train to Münster so what I write here isn't a deeply edited and considered account of Documenta 14, just some thoughts. 

Overall, it was ok. As with any of these big things you very quickly go art-blind and can find yourself wandering around museums and venues like you're in IKEA on a Sunday morning. It's often after you've left that things begin to percolate through and you realise what you've really liked. 

First thing to say is that the Kultur Bahnhof and the Neue Neue Galerie were my real highlights. Like a lot of people, I guess, I have a fondness for odd and repurposed spaces as they just tend to offer a more interesting proposition in which to site and read work. Both of these spaces are exactly that. 


Outside Kassel's main train station sits a shipping container. A constant stream of people go in but don't come out again - like a reverse Keystone Cops kind of thing. On entering the container you discover it's placed over the top of the entrance to a, now-disused, underground station. What's not to love about getting access to a disused subterranean space?

There are a handful of works in there, the most striking of which being a large video installation at one end. Now, at this point I'll state I've no idea who made the works I'm about to mention. I'm sorry, it's unprofessional, but unless the name plaque was immediately apparent I just couldn't be arsed to track it down as I just wanted to enjoy the work and experience. 


Exit from this amazing space was by following the tracks out of the station and back in to the world - an ambiguous and alien experience that was enjoyable in itself. The parting shot is this work, meaning 'Hello/Welcome' in Greek and relating to a bunch of Greek soldiers transported here during the war and who occupied a space somewhere between PoW and guest. 


My other favourite space was the Neue Neue Galerie - a disused post office building across town. This holds a considerable number of the new commissions and hangs together well as a curated show.  

A work about the murder of an Internet cafe owner in Kassel is fascinating - an incredibly well-researched and deeply disturbing account of, what appears to be, a state-sanctioned murder. It also taps neatly in to the current Netflix 'Making of a Murderer/The Keepers' zeitgeist. That, in itself, is an observation, not a criticism. 


The show carries on over several floors, meandering through every media and form you'd expect to meet in such a show. Artur Zmijewski gets a room to himself for some new videos (no pic, sorry) of amputees undressing and performing exercises. As with so much of his stuff there's a moral ambiguity as to how we're supposed to be feeling as they, at once, feel a bit voyeuristic and exploitative but maybe quite sexual and a bit homo-erotic. Who knows. 

In all honesty, if I'd have seen these two venues and no others, I'd have seen the lion's share of what I really wanted to see. That's not to say that there's no other good work around, but I largely found myself enjoying one or two works in each of the other venues.  

Minujin's Parthenon of banned books, on a site where the Nazis used to burn books, was a fine visual statement, but then I'm a sucker for the grand public gesture. 


Another highlight was Romuald Karmakar's video 'Agni Parthene' in the Orangerie. The best I can offer you is a screenshot from my Instagram, but if you want to see a clip of it then you can find one there. 


These big shows/projects are always great, for the sheer volume of work one gets to see in such a short space of time, but I invariably leave, whether it be Venice, Documenta, any biennale anywhere, feeling that I've a) probably missed the best thing somewhere (this is invariably proven to be the case by checking others Instagram feeds after the fact) or b) there could have been half as much work and it would have, somehow, been twice as good (nonsense, of course).

The whole trip was thanks to a bursary from a-n due to my role as an AIR Council Member, so a big thanks to them. It wa great to meet a few of the recipients of the member bursaries too. So, to finish up, here's just a little collection of additional works from the various shows.