The Art Angle Podcast: How Documenta Became the World’s Most Controversial Art Show

Ahead of Documenta 15, we dive into the show's complicated history.

Artists demonstrating in front of the Fridericanum at the 2007 documenta. Photo: Thomas Lohnes/DDP/AFP.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.


How much can an art show do?

That’s a question at the heart of Documenta, the sprawling exhibition that touches down in Kassel, Germany, every five years. Sometimes called a “museum in 100 days,” the show regularly draws millions of visitors from around the world. But it is far from a neutral celebration of contemporary art.

Founded in 1955, the show was conceived as a way to regenerate Kassel, which was still in ruins after World War II. But it had broader political aims, too: to project West Germany’s alliance with liberal values and help spread those values to nearby East Germany during the Cold War.

Since its inception, Documenta has melded art and politics more than almost any other exhibition in the world. So it’s not surprising that its history has been marked by controversy. From hidden Nazi ties to funding crises, the show has stirred up dispute after dispute. And this year is no different, as the show’s curators, the Indonesian art collective ruangrupa, face allegations of anti-Semitism due to the political affiliations of some of the artists included in the show.

When the 15th Documenta opens next week, it will present the work of more than 50 artists and collectives. Artnet News executive editor Julia Halperin sat down with Europe editor Kate Brown to explore this essential show’s turbulent history—and perhaps even more turbulent present.



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