Adam Szymczyk Led documenta to the Brink of Bankruptcy With a Show That Went Vastly Over Budget

The state saved the quinquennial at the eleventh hour.

Documenta 14 art director Adam Szymczyk. Photo: RONNY HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images.

Documenta 14 director Adam Szymczyk has led the world-renowned art quinquennial to the brink of bankruptcy, after the exhibition ran significantly over budget. According to the German local newspaper HNA, which broke the story, the deficit amounts to roughly €7 million ($8.3 million).

The insolvency of documenta’s parent company was narrowly averted when numerous creditors accepted deferral agreements for outstanding payments after the state of Hesse and the city of Kassel agreed to act as guarantors, each writing a check for a €3.5 million loan ($4 million) at an emergency board meeting on August 30 to keep the exhibition up and running. The financial injection ensures the quinquennial can continue to run until its conclusion on September 17, and ensures that its employees will be paid.

In a statement published on the city’s official website, the mayor of Kassel and chairman of the board of documenta’s parent company Christian Geselle confirmed that the quinquennial was facing “financial constraints” and confirmed that the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse reached a deal to “guarantee the liquidity of the company” going forward, although the statement does not name figures.

“The board is aware of the extraordinary importance of documenta for the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse,” Geselle said in the statement. “Documenta is inextricably linked to Kassel and we want documenta to continue to bring world class contemporary art to Kassel.”

It’s still unclear how the €37 million budget ($44 million) was squandered, as independent auditors are still examining the numbers. However, initial reports suggest that the exhibition’s secondary venue in Athens was the root of the problem, with the Greek show costing more than anticipated. At the same time, ticket sales have failed to make up for the shortfall—and, halfway through its run time, projections show that a three percent decline in visitor numbers is expected in comparison to the previous edition.

At the moment, the reason for the near-bankruptcy appears to be a case of financial mismanagement by documenta officials. Adam Szymczyk’s decision to stage the show in two different countries significantly inflated costs, while chief executive Annette Kulenkampff, a trained art historian and former publisher, did little to stop the director’s spending. Meanwhile, the chair of the advisory board was until recently filled by former Kassel mayor Bertram Hilgen, who allegedly allowed the spending to continue in an effort to protect his legacy at the end of his political term. Now it’s up to Hilgen’s successor, Geselle, and the other board members to pick up the pieces and come up with a solution to documenta’s financial problems.

A post-mortem is already scheduled at a second board meeting next week, where the independent auditors will present their findings, which will doubtless shed more light on what exactly went wrong.

Reached by email, a representative of documenta declined to comment, and referred artnet News to the statement by the mayor of Kassel.

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