documenta gGmbH

documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH is a non-profit organization supported and funded by the City of Kassel and the State of Hesse, as well as by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

In 1955, the Kassel painter and academy professor Arnold Bode endeavored to bring Germany back into dialogue with the rest of the world after the end of World War II, and to connect the international art scene through a “presentation of twentieth century art.” He founded the “Society of Western Art of the 20th Century” in order to present art that had been deemed by the Nazis as degenerate as well as works from classical modernity that had never been seen in Germany in the destroyed Museum Fridericianum. The first documenta was a retrospective of works from major movements (Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, the Blaue Reiter, Futurism) and brilliant individualists such as Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Hans Arp, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, and Henry Moore. In this journey through the art of the first fifty years of the century, German founders of modern art such as Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, or Max Beckmann were presented alongside classics of modernism.

An enormous hunger to compensate for the lack of information about international tendencies in art motivated 130,000 visitors to come to Kassel for the exhibition, which acted as both a survey and a forum for contemporary art. Encouraged by this unexpected success, Bode planned a second exhibition in 1959, thus establishing the exhibition cycle of documenta. Since 1959, the exhibition has been organized by a limited liability company with the City of Kassel and State of Hesse as shareholders. Arnold Bode led the exhibition up until documenta 4 in 1968, in cooperation with art historians such as Werner Haftmann, Will Grohmann, Werner Schmalenbach, and Max Imdahl. documenta increasingly became a seismograph of developments in contemporary art.

A new format for the exhibition’s organization started in 1972, with Harald Szeemann appointed as “Secretary General.” On behalf of the board of documenta gGmbH, an international jury is assembled to appoint the Artistic Direction for each exhibition. In 1997, Catherine David became the first woman to direct documenta. Each documenta – including documenta 14 – takes its character from the ideas and concept of its Artistic Direction, and is therefore not only a forum for current trends in contemporary art, but a place where innovative and standards-setting exhibition concepts are trialed.

In each edition, documenta has played a leading role in taking the international discourse about art in new directions. Over the past decades, documenta has established itself as an institution that goes far beyond a survey of what is currently happening, inviting the attention of the international art world every five years for this "museum of 100 days." The discourse and the dynamics of the discussion surrounding each documenta reflects and challenges the expectations of society about art.


Photo © Nils Klinger

The Fridericianum was founded in 1779 as one of the first public museums in the world. Since 1988 it has been an internationally renowned art gallery. A broad spectrum of contemporary art, from new discoveries to more established works, is displayed in over 2,000 square meters of exhibition space. Moritz Wesseler has been director of the Fridericianum since November 2018, following Veit Loers (1987–1995), René Block (1997–2006), Rein Wolfs (2008–2013) and Susanne Pfeffer (2013–2017). His program focuses on artists who have not yet been offered an institutional platform in Germany as well as historical works worthy of rediscovery. The program kicked off in June 2019 with solo presentations by Lucas Arruda and Ron Nagle. These were followed in October 2019 by a comprehensive exhibition of the work of Rachel Rose and in February 2020 by the first and largest European retrospective in over thirty years on the life and work of Forrest Bess.

The exhibitions are accompanied by an extensive education and mediation program, the content of which is closely related to each show. These programs are individually tailored for different age and interest groups and appeal to both a wide audience and art professionals.

Alongside this programming, a multifaceted lineup of events makes the Fridericianum a lively place of exchange on contemporary cultural production. As part of the “FF – Live at the Fridericianum” series, the museum regularly invites international artists to create live events using varied formats, including talks, performances, and film screenings.

documenta archiv

The documenta archiv was founded by Arnold Bode. At the beginning of the 1960s, the inventor of the documenta wanted to continue the art show with an institution at its side that would be both the academic backbone and the memory of past exhibitions for the organizers. In 1961, the documenta archiv, initially a municipal institution, began its work. Since then, the multimedia holdings of this versatile repository of knowledge have grown steadily with each successive edition of documenta. In a symbolic act, the documenta archiv was handed over to documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH on 15 July 2015. The aim is to raise the international profile of this unique institution.

As one of the most important archivs on contemporary art, it is now responsible for the production, documentation, archiving and scientific processing of text, image and multimedia sources relating to the major exhibition in Kassel and is closely linked to the artistic-curatorial, organizational, and technical teams of documenta and Museum Fridericianum.

As a member of the Arbeitskreis selbstständiger Kultur-Institute e.V. (AsKI), the documenta archiv has grown into an active research and art institution that initiates exhibition and other research projects with national and international partners and invites artistic interventions along its own objects - a place of interdisciplinary documenta research for students, fellows and visiting scholars from all over the world. The focus is on the art system of the 20th and 21st centuries, on object- and material-based questions concerning contemporary arts, the history of exhibition practice and its forms of presentation mediated by the media. Special fields of research concern the boundaries of the documentary in the fields of photography, film and the digital arts and humanities. The current focus is on the early documenta exhibitions, their organizational and personnel structures intertwined with the art business, and the mechanisms of art historical canonization processes.

The core of the documenta archiv is formed by the original documents produced during the preparation of the exhibition and the ongoing documenta. These include analogue and digital documents, e-mails, chats or classic correspondence, sketches, concepts, invitations, flyers, press material, websites, photo and video documentation, art objects and much more. The archiv's media collection alone contains around 40,000 analogue and 45,000 digital images, 5,000 videos and 650 audio recordings of the works and projects of the artists involved. In addition, there is a comprehensive press archive: around 45,000 press folders and 660 files on individual artists as well as around 250,000 systematically collected newspaper cuttings reflect the history of documenta.

In addition, the documenta archiv houses one of the largest special libraries for modern art in Germany. The art library contains around 120,000 volumes, 71,000 of which are exhibition catalogues alone. The so-called ephemera are of particular importance: Brochures, leaflets, invitation cards, private prints, academic writings and gallery catalogues. The documenta archiv is constantly expanding its holdings by acquiring important estates and bequests of documenta artists, curators and key players in the history of art and exhibitions. The centrepieces are the bequests of Arnold Bode, which include correspondence as well as numerous paintings, drawings and design objects, and of the artist and university lecturer Harry Kramer: kinetic sculptures, models, sketches and numerous writings. One of the most recent additions is the extensive estate of the theorist and artist Bazon Brock.

documenta Institut

The documenta Institut is being developed in a cooperation between the State of Hesse, the City of Kassel, documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH and the University of Kassel with Kunsthochschule Kassel with financial support for the building project from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. The acclaimed sociologist Prof. Dr. Heinz Bude was appointed Founding Director of the documenta Institut.

The starting point for the documenta Institut is the holdings of the documenta archiv, which is being developed into an extramural research institut. The documenta archiv was founded in 1961 by Arnold Bode and is dedicated to the archiving, documentation and scholarly processing of text and image sources on modern and contemporary art, in particular the documenta exhibitions that have taken place since 1955. In addition to the documenta documents, the holdings include extensive press, image and audiovisual media collections, a unique art library and relevant bequests and estates.

The documenta Institut will initially be founded under the umbrella of documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH and is intended to act in a cross-disciplinary manner to stimulate, conduct and further develop research related to the international exhibition business and documenta and to promote its public exposure.

documenta Halle

The documenta Halle is an exhibition and event venue on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel that was designed and realized in 1992 by the architectural office “Jourdan & Müller (PAS)”. Today, it is owned by the state of Hesse and is managed by documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH.

Photo: Nicolas Wefers

Photo: Nicolas Wefers

Photo: Frank Sperling

The design by architects Jourdan and Müller emerged as the winner of a nationwide tender at the end of 1989. It was the only one of the 137 submissions to envisage a location parallel to the existing state theater sitting on the edge of the Aue slope. The result was a multifunctional building offering exhibition spaces of varying size and quality. With the exception of Cabinet 4 at the eastern end of the hall, all exhibition spaces are united by a uniformly high flat roof, which is only topped by the two pitch-roofed skylights in Cabinets 1–3 and the High Hall. This results in exhibition spaces with a height of up to around 11 meters. The architecture of documenta Halle is defined by three elements: glass, steel and concrete. The ensuing reduced spatial impression gives each exhibition / event enough space to unfold.

The hall offers 1400 m² of exhibition space and around 700 m² of other usable ancillary space for offices, a depot, and a catering area. In each documenta year, the hall is available to the exhibition organizers. Outside of this period, documenta Halle is used for numerous events of all kinds – from congresses and conferences, presentations and lectures to evening events and functions.

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International Friends of documenta

International Friends of documenta is a group composed of patrons of art in the traditional sense. It brings together people from all over the world who are devoted to promoting contemporary art at the international level and realizing the objectives and values of documenta. Their efforts are focused on supporting and assisting the artistic direction who radically redefine and realize each successive exhibition.

International Friends of documenta regards itself as a supporting network whose members meet regularly on various occasions and follow the progress of planning for each upcoming documenta exhibition. Members are invited to participate by the documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH.