‘The Ship Is Now Back on Course’: documenta Boosts Its Budget After a New Report Shows It Overspent Even More Than Previously Thought

An audit shows the 2017 spending was actually $2.2 million more over-budget than estimated.

Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images.

The final audit of documenta’s over-budget 2017 edition has revealed that losses were more than €2 million ($2.2 million) higher than initially calculated. At a board meeting of quinquennial’s parent company in Kassel on Wednesday, its shareholders—the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse—learned that the final tally for the shortfall added up to a total of €7.6 million ($8.6 million), rather than €5.4 million ($6.1 million), as previously thought.

“This gap resulted in part due to the implementation of the chosen concept of a documenta exhibition held in two locations,” in Kassel and Athens, Greece, according to a statement released by the event’s organizers. Both shareholders agreed to equally split the cost of the shortfall, the statement said, and the budget will be increased for the next edition.

Reports have suggested that artistic director Adam Szymczyk’s decision to stage an auxiliary exhibition at a second venue in Athens for the first time in the show’s history racked up significant additional costs for expenses such as shipping, security, and air conditioning. The deficit nearly bankrupted the historic show, and the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse were forced to provide emergency funding to keep it running. Afterward, former CEO Annette Kulenkampff resigned amid accusations of insufficient oversight and financial mismanagement.

To prevent similar issues arising in the future, board members announced the implementation of a new company structure, which now includes unspecified controlling mechanisms and a new communications and marketing department.

Looking ahead to documenta 15, in 2023, the board agreed to raise the budget “with an eye on artistic needs as well as general increases in costs and greater demands in terms of security, sustainability, and visitor services.” The statement did not specify by how much the budget would be increased. During his tenure as artistic director, Szymczyk frequently complained that the €37 million ($41.9 million) budget was inadequate to cover rising visitor numbers. (According to the Art Newspaper, the Kassel event drew 891,500 visitors, while Athens brought in 330,000).

“After a brief period between rough waters and lulls, as can happen on any sea journey, the ship is now back on course,” Kassel’s mayor and chairman of the supervisory board of documenta’s parent company said in a statement.

The director for the upcoming edition will be appointed in the new year.

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