16 July – 18 September 1955
Art of the Twentieth Century. International Exhibition

Artistic Director

Arnold Bode


Museum Fridericianum





Incurring costs

379,000 DM

Arnold Bode (1955)

The German National Garden Show held in Kassel in 1955, for which beds of roses were planted on the rubble heaps left over from World War II, offered Arnold Bode—a painter, designer, and teacher (who was banned from practicing his profession in 1933)—an opportunity to realize his long-standing dream of organizing a major international exhibition of modern art in Germany. The goal of the project was to bring the avant-garde, which had been defamed and banned under the National Socialist regime, back to Germany and reintroduce it to a broad public that had been culturally deprived for a long time. The event was to be the first exhibition of modern art since the Degenerate Art show in Munich in 1937. Bode was inspired by world art exhibitions such as the Armory Show in New York. Yet the aim of the event in Kassel was not to present an overview of the art produced during the first half of the twentieth century, but rather to “reveal the roots of contemporary art in all areas,” as Bode wrote in the exposé. Bode wanted to develop a genealogy of contemporary art, generated from a mood that might be described as a blend of postwar trauma and the will to modernize. In that spirit, a series of photographs featuring examples of early Christian and non-European art as precursors of European modern art was presented in the exhibition foyer and confronted with photo portraits of “masters” of the avant-garde and an exhibition of architectural photographs from 1905 to 1955 on the third level of the rotunda at the Fridericianum.

Poster of Bundesgartenschau (1955)

Museum Fridericianum
Photo: Günther Becker

Museum Fridericianum
Photo: Günther Becker

Museum Fridericianum:
Gustav H. Wolff, Medusa (1929); Gustav Seitz, Stillleben (1943); Giorgio Morandi, Stillleben (1919), Stillleben (1949), Stillleben (1929) © Giorgio Morandi/VG Bild-Kunst
Photo: Günther Becker

Pablo Picasso, Mädchen vor einem Spiegel / Girl before mirror / Frau vor dem Spiegel (1932), © Pablo Picasso/VG Bild-Kunst

Museum Fridericianum:
Oskar Schlemmer, Fünfzehnergruppe (1929)
Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Kniende / Kneeling Woman (1911), Badende (1914), Mutter und Kind (1917/18)

Ten years after the end of the war, a sense of optimism and new beginnings had returned to Kassel, a city nearly destroyed by Allied bombs. Totally burned out in 1943/44, the Museum Fridericianum—the oldest museum on the European continent, built in the spirit of the Enlightenment—had only recently been provisionally restored. One could hardly have found a more fitting symbol for the cultural-educational disaster Bode hoped to reverse with documenta. The bare, whitewashed walls offered him an almost spectacular setting for his presentation. He used Heraklith panels as structural cladding and wall drapes made of opaque black and semitransparent white plastic, which regulated the incoming daylight. In some cases, paintings were hung directly on these elements. Other unique features were the metal steles on which paintings were mounted as if floating in front of the wall or standing alone in the room (as in the case of the paintings by the Futurist Carlo Carrà) and thus assumed the character of being works in their own right. Not only were works of art to be presented in relation to one another, relationships were to be established between works and viewers as well. One highly symbolic work, Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s Kniende (Kneeling Figure) from 1911, was exhibited in the center of the rotunda. It had been shown previously at the Armory Show in 1913 and the Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937. Paintings by Oskar Schlemmer from 1920 were hung above it in the circular staircase in the rotunda.

Henry Moore’s King and Queen (1952/53) was enthroned at one end of the Hall of Sculptures on the ground floor. In front of it was a loose arrangement of abstract sculptures by such artists as Hans Arp, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and Barbara Hepworth, as well as mobiles by Alexander Calder. Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror was hung in the large Hall of Paintings on the second floor, opposite the recently completed Komposition vor Blau und Gelb (Composition Before Blue and Yellow) by Fritz Winter, who was regarded as the father of abstract painting in Germany—a bold juxtaposition that was meant to symbolize Germany’s return to the world of international art but failed to stand up to the test of art history. Seating was available in the form of small stools designed by Bode and the furniture in the Café Picasso on the third level of the rotunda.

Museum Fridericianum
Photo: Erich Müller

Other important positions in painting included those of Max Beckmann (represented by the Perseus Triptych [1941]), Giorgio de Chirico, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Piet Mondrian. Women, including Paula Modersohn-Becker, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, were the 8 1955 d exceptions. While the classical main currents of the avant-garde—Expressionism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Cubism—were represented, one could not fail to notice that explicitly political, subversive positions like Dada (by John Heartfield or George Grosz) were missing. The exhibition featured a total of 670 works by 148 artists, most of them from Germany, France, and Italy. Bode was assisted in the process of developing the exhibition concept by a working committee led by the renowned art historian and conceptual pioneer Werner Haftmann, who advocated a theory of continuity in the development of abstract art. That tendency would be reflected again in even more insistent form four years later at documenta 2—although no one was
talking about a second exhibition in 1955.

One may assume, at least, that Bode did give some thought to a cyclical continuation of his international exhibition. In any event, the overwhelming public success of the first documenta, which drew 130,000 visitors in 100 days, paved the way for such a plan.


Participating Artists


  • Afro (Basaldella, Afro)
  • Albers, Josef
  • Armitage, Kenneth
  • Arp, Hans (Arp, Jean)
  • Auberjonois, René Victor


  • Balla, Giacomo
  • Bargheer, Eduard
  • Barlach, Ernst
  • Baumeister, Willi
  • Bazaine, Jean (Bazaine, Jean René)
  • Beaudin, André
  • Beckmann, Max
  • Bill, Max
  • Birolli, Renato
  • Bissière, Roger
  • Blumenthal, Hermann
  • Boccioni, Umberto
  • Bombois, Camille
  • Braque, Georges
  • Butler, Reg (Butler, Reginald Cotterell)


  • Camaro, Alexander
  • Campendonck, Heinrich
  • Campigli, Massimo
  • Capogrossi, Giuseppe
  • Carrà, Carlo DalmazzoCarrà, Carlo
  • Casorati, Felice
  • Cassinari, Bruno
  • Chadwick, Lynn
  • Chagall, Marc
  • Corpora, Antonio
  • Crippa, Roberto


  • De Chirico, Giorgio (Chirico, Giorgio de)
  • De Fiori, Ernesto (Fiori, Ernesto de)
  • Delaunay, Robert
  • De Pisis, Filippo (Pisis, Filippo de)
  • Derain, André
  • Despiau, Charles
  • Dix, Otto
  • Doesburg, Theo van (Van Doesburg, Theo & Küpper, Christian)
  • Duchamp-Villon, Raymond (Villon, Raymond Duchamp-)
  • Dufy, Raoul


  • Ernst, Max (Ernst, Maximilian)


  • Faßbender, Joseph
  • Feininger, Lyonel
  • Fuhr, Xaver


  • Gabo, Naum (Pevsner, Naum Nehemia Boriosowitsch)
  • Gilles, Werner
  • Glarner, Fritz
  • Gonzalez, Julio (Gonzales, Julio)
  • Grieshaber, HAP (Grieshaber, H.A.P. & Grieshaber, Helmut Andreas Paul)
  • Gris, Juan (Gonzalez, José Victoriano)


  • Hartung, Hans
  • Hartung, Karl
  • Heckel, Erich
  • Heiliger, Bernhard
  • Heldt, Werner
  • Hepworth, Barbara
  • Herbin, Auguste
  • Hofer, Karl (Hofer, Carl)


  • Jawlensky, Alexej (Jawlensky, Alexej Georgevich von)


  • Kandinsky, Wassily (Kandinsky, Wassily Wassilijewitsch & Kandinski, Vassili & Kandinsky, Vassily & Kandinskij, Vasilij)
  • Kasper, Ludwig
  • Kirchner, Ernst-Ludwig (Kirchner, Ludwig)
  • Klee, Paul
  • Kokoschka, Oskar
  • Kupka, Frantisek (Kupka, Frank)


  • Lardera, Berto
  • Laurens, Henri
  • Léger, Fernand
  • Lehmann, Kurt
  • Lehmbruck, Wilhelm


  • Macke, August
  • Magnelli, Alberto
  • Maillol, Aristide
  • Manessier, Alfred
  • Marc, Franz
  • Marcks, Gerhard
  • Marini, Marino
  • Masson, André
  • Mataré, Ewald
  • Matisse, Henri
  • Meistermann, Georg
  • Mettel, Hans
  • Meyer-Amden, Otto (Amden, Otto Meyer-)
  • Mirko (Basaldella, Mirko)
  • Miró, Joan
  • Modersohn-Becker, Paula (Becker, Paula Modersohn- & Becker-Modersohn, Paula)
  • Modigliani, Amedeo
  • Mondrian, Piet (Mondriaan, Pieter C. & Mondriaan, Piet)
  • Moore, Henry
  • Morandi, Giorgio
  • Moreni, Mattia
  • Morlotti, Ennio
  • Mortensen, Richard
  • Muche, Georg
  • Müller, Otto (Mueller, Otto)
  • Münter, Gabriele
  • Music, Zoran (Music, Anton Zoran & Music, Antonio)


  • Nay, Ernst Wilhelm
  • Nesch, Rolf
  • Nicholson, Ben
  • Nolde, Emil (Hansen, Emil)


  • Pechstein, Max
  • Pevsner, Antoine
  • Picasso, Pablo (Picasso, Pablo Ruiz)
  • Pignon, Edouard
  • Purrmann, Hans


  • Ritschl, Otto
  • Roeder, Emy
  • Roesch, Kurt
  • Rohlfs, Christian
  • Rouault, Georges (Rouault, Georges Henri)
  • Rousseau, Henri


  • Santomaso, Giuseppe
  • Scharff, Edwin
  • Schlemmer, Oskar
  • Schmidt-Rottluff, Karl (Rottluff, Karl Schmidt-)
  • Schneider, Gérard (Schneider, Gérard Ernest)
  • Schwitters, Kurt
  • Scipione, Gino Bonichi
  • Scott, William
  • Seraphine, Louis de Senlis (De Senlis Seraphine, Louis)
  • Severini, Gino
  • Singier, Gustave
  • Sironi, Mario
  • Soulages, Pierre
  • Stadler, Toni
  • Sutherland, Graham


  • Taeuber-Arp, Sophie (Arp, Sophie Taeuber-)
  • Tal-Coat, Pierre (Coat, Pierre Tal- & Jacob, Pierre)
  • Trier, Hann
  • Trökes, Heinz


  • Uhlmann, Hans


  • Vasarely, Victor (Vasarely, Victor de & Vásárhelyi, Gyözö)
  • Vedova, Emilio
  • Viani, Alberto
  • Vieira da Silva, Marie Hélène (Silva, Vieira da & Silva, Marie Hélène Vieira da & Vieira da Silva, Maria Helena & Vieira da Silva, Maria Elena)
  • Villon, Jacques (Duchamp, Gaston)
  • Vivin, Louis
  • Vlaminck, Maurice de (De Vlaminck, Maurice)
  • Vordemberge-Gildewart, Friedrich (Gildewart, Friedrich Vordemberge- & Vordemberge-Gildewart, Friedel)


  • Werner, Theodor
  • Wiemken, Walter Kurt
  • Wimmer, Hans
  • Winter, Fritz
  • Wolff, Gustav H.
  • Wols (Schulze, Wolfgang)

Artistic Director
Arnold Bode (1900–1977)

Born in 1900 in Kassel, died in 1977 in Kassel

1919 – 1924

Studied painting and graphic art at the Kunstakademie Kassel, Kassel

1922 – 1929

Exhibition of modern art in the Orangerie in Kassel


Founded the Kasseler Sezession and the artists’ group die Fünf

from 1926

Independent painter and graphic artist

1929 – 1977

Joined the SPD; member of the SPD


Instructor at the Städtisches Werklehrer-Seminar, Berlin

1931 – 1933

Deputy Director of the Werklehrer-Seminar, Berlin


Removed from office by the National Socialist government; banned from the artist’s profession


Inner immigration in Kassel


Interned as a prisoner of war by the U.S. forces; return to Kassel following his release

from 1945

Developed project plans for a major international art exhibition; founded the Gesellschaft Abendländischer Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts


Re-establishment of the Kunstakademie in Kassel, which had been closed in 1932

1950 – 1955

Freelance work as an interior and furniture designer


Artistic Director of the first documenta in Kassel


Artistic Director of documenta 2, Kassel


Artistic Director of documenta 3, Kassel

Awards (selection):


Awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany


Awarded the Hessian Culture Prize for his work as Artistic Director of documenta 1-4 (posthumously)