After documenta 14’s Athens iteration and the Venice Biennale, art aficionados are about to be rushed into the most intense period of their summer. In fact, you might even see yourselves confronted with a last-minute dilemma: should I experience the unique density of documenta in Kassel or witness the opening of Skulptur Projekte in Münster? Both events are set to open this week, and both only take place at great intervals (every 5 years for documenta, every 10 for SPM). So which one of these provincial towns should you pick as your destination? We’ll try to help you decide, in case you still haven’t.
Those who managed to visit at least 4 out of the 47 (no joke) locations of documenta Athens will know: vitrines and aesthetic dryness might dominate the show in Kassel. That doesn’t mean it won’t be good; next to what often looked like 1970s geography manuals torn apart and staged as archival-style presentations, plenty of works on view in Athens surprised and enchanted the crowds. But with more than 150 artists taking part, even the sharpest brains and most zen souls can get overwhelmed. Skulptur Projekte Münster seems to apply the opposite strategy, exhibiting just 35 positions; such a small number seems almost odd, if not provocative. Most works will be on view outdoors and the participants include today’s most interesting artists such as Justin Matherly, Peles Empire, Hito Steyerl, or Nairy Baghramian.
And who’s behind the events? Documenta 14 is directed by Adam Szymczyk, previously the director of Kunsthalle Basel and co-curator of the 5th Berlin Biennale in 2008. Throughout his career, the somber-looking Polish curator has always defended an approach to exhibition-making that seeks to uphold the political aspects of art. Widely respected in his field, Szymczyk has taken quite some risks with his conception of documenta 14, not shying away from neither controversy nor contradiction, as pointed out by Angels Miranda in her review for Sleek.
Skulptur Projekte Münster has not only been co-founded (in 1977), but is still directed by Kasper König, who is to German curating what Madonna is to pop music: an indisputable and restless innovator, minus the Givenchy leotards. The list of exhibitions organised, artists discovered, books published and witty statements uttered by König is too long to be mentioned; if only one should be mentioned, it’s his sharp and short evaluation of Szymczyk’s documenta: “Viel Politik, wenig Ästhetik” (a lot of politics, little aesthetics).
And what about the cities themselves? Both Kassel and Münster could be ideal examples of quaint western German towns from which people escape after high-school or university. The former prides itself as a place where the Grimm brothers studied and wrote many of their works. Bombed extensively during WW2, Kassel was rebuilt after the principles of the automotive city and was the first place in Germany to have a “Fussgängerzone” (pedestrian zones), probably the most German thing in the world alongside Bratwurst and orthopaedic footwear. While this might sound rather dull, a visit to the birthplace of postwar urbanism’s most dominant idea could actually be surprisingly entertaining, if additionally to contemporary art, you enjoy 1950s city architecture and stories of orphans being eaten by wolves.
Münster on the other hand looks more like a place where you’d accompany your relatives to visit a Christmas market. Its charming, bourgeois city center has been rebuilt to its original state after most of it was – like Kassel – wiped out during the war. Filled with students and bicycles, Münster is also known as one of the rainiest places in Germany – so rainy in fact that (according to Wikipedia), citizens have invented their own word to qualify it. So If the prospect of cycling through a humid Westphalian municipality and admire what we expect to be fantastic art works by the likes of Tom Burr and Cosima von Bonin, Münster is where you should be headed. Have a good trip, whichever mid-size town you decide to travel to on a last-minute Flixbus!
Documenta 14 Kassel and Skulptur Projekte Münster open on 10 June 2017