After a Tumultuous Year, documenta Appoints a Former Sony Music Executive as Interim CEO

Can Wolfgang Orthmayer restore public trust in the debt-ridden exhibition?

Wolfgang Orthmayr will replace Annette Kulenkampff as the interim CEO of documenta.

The German art quinquennial documenta has hired former Sony Music executive Wolfgang Orthmayer as its new CEO on an interim basis. Orthmayr took up the new role on April 1, a few months earlier than expected.

The 58-year-old Hamburg-born Orthmayr succeeds embattled former CEO Annette Kulenkampff, who agreed to step down from her post by mutual decision a year before her contract expired. The exhibition’s last edition racked up a deficit of €5.4 million ($6.3 million) under her tenure. When the city of Kassel initially announced Kulenkampff’s departure last November, the CEO was set to stay in her post until June 1 of this year, but now that date has moved forward.

Orthmayr helped convince city officials of his credentials by informing them that he excels at “selling things that nobody needs,” according to Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Orthmayr is an art world outsider and a veteran in the entertainment industry, having previously held posts at Sony Music Entertainment and WOM World of Music. He was until this past December the commercial director at Stage Entertainment GmbH, a company that stages musicals and large Disney theater productions throughout Germany.

“We are very happy that we are able to have gained an interim managing director with Wolfgang Orthmayr,” says Lord Mayor Christian Geselle, chairman of documenta’s supervisory board and Museum Fridericianum gGmbH. Orthmayr’s appointment was needed to avoid a complete vacancy in the position while documenta and the Fridericianum gGmbH search for someone with the “relevant experience and skills in the field of cultural management,” according a statement released today by the city of Kassel.

The Fridericianum, the primary venue of documenta in Kassel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Last September it emerged that documenta’s parent company was rescued from bankruptcy at the eleventh hour when its state owners, the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse, provided €8 million ($9.5 million) in emergency loan guarantees. In November, an independent audit revealed that the deficit was caused by overspending at documenta’s secondary venue in Athens.

During the fallout, criticism was largely aimed at Kulenkampff, who was accused of failing to reign in the ambitions of artistic director Adam Sczymczyk to work within the constraints of the budget. Kulenkampff has maintained that unexpected costs related to air conditioning, tax increases, shipping, and security caused the overspending.

Incoming CEO Orthmayr has his work cut out for him. He must restore public trust in a company that many Germans view as having squandered taxpayers’ money, appoint a new artistic director for documenta 15 in 2022, and oversee the establishment of a planned €24 million ($26.7 million) documenta institute to sustain interest in the event in the five years between each edition.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.