Former documenta CEO Annette Kulenkampff Is Cleared of Criminal Wrongdoing for Last Year’s $6.3 Million Budget Shortfall

The former managing director of the quinquennial exhibition will not be held responsible for overspending.

Annette Kulenkampff. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis, courtesy of documenta.

A public prosecutor in Kassel, Germany, has cleared former documenta CEO Annette Kulenkampff of criminal wrongdoing in the wake of a $6.3 million deficit scandal after the 14th edition of the quinquennial exhibition.

An investigation into the budget shortfall was launched after members of Germany’s populist AfD party in Kassel’s city council filed a lawsuit against Kulenkampff and curator Adam Szymczyk, accusing the pair of embezzlement and mismanaging public funds. The investigation closed on July 30 after the prosecutor’s office examined the accusations made against Kulenkampff, members of the event’s supervisory board, and Szymczyk, concluding that there was no evidence of criminal conduct.

“With this decision, the path is now clear for a continued successful future of documenta,” Kulenkampff said in a statement. “It was and is most important to me to avert damage to documenta.”

The road to vindication has not been an easy one for Kulenkampff. In September, the event’s shareholders—the city of Kassel and the German state of Hesse—had to save the company from bankruptcy with a $9.5 million cash injection. A later audit revealed the deficit was caused by spending at documenta’s secondary location in Athens, which Kulenkampff attributed to unexpected costs.

Over the last year, the former CEO received the lion’s share of criticism for the deficit and its fallout. But on Thursday morning, prosecutors cleared her of responsibility on several fronts.

First, it found that the decision to organize documenta 14 in two cities was always going to result in budget overruns—and that was made clear to the supervisory board. According to the prosecutor, Kulenkampff “repeatedly” pointed out to the board that the ambitious two-location enterprise would exceed original budget projections, a fact also confirmed by the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers GmbH (PwC) last year.

The prosecutor further concluded that Kulenkampff consistently acted for the good of documenta and did nothing to deliberately endanger its funds. The prosecutor said that that the contracts signed by the management served to help documenta 14 achieve the greatest possible success, pointing out that cost-cutting measures would have led to a decline in visitors—and greater losses.

The 14th edition of the international art showcase welcomed 1.2 million visitors. A study by the University of Kassel found that 84 percent of attendees approved of the decision for a second location in Athens. 

In the wake of the scandal, Kulenkampff agreed to step down from her role as CEO of documenta’s parent company a year earlier than planned, leaving her post on June 1 and becoming managing director of the German Institute of Urban Design in Frankfurt. Sabine Schormann was appointed the new documenta CEO in April, and a selection committee is expected to name a new artistic director for documenta 15, which is slated for 2022, by early 2019.

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