documenta 5
30 June – 8 October 1972

Artistic Director

Harald Szeemann (Secretary-General)


Museum Fridericianum, Friedrichsplatz, Neue Galerie






3,480,000 DM

Ben Vautier, Kunst ist überflüssig (1972) © Ben Vautier/VG Bild-Kunst
Photo: Manfred Vollmer

After the first steps toward fundamental structural change were taken within the context of documenta 4, Harald Szeemann was appointed as the first art director and sole curator of the exhibition in 1972. That marked the end of the Arnold Bode era. With his selection of “Questioning Reality – Pictorial Worlds Today” as the exhibition title, Szeemann gave documenta 5 an unprecedented programmatic focus. The original concept of a “100-Day Event” developed in 1970, which had replaced the idea of the “Museum of 100 Days” with an actionistic, performanceoriented program, was abandoned, perhaps in response to experience gained from earlier exhibitions, such as Happening and Fluxus (1970), which had been closed in response to massive popular protests. Yet it came as a surprise at first that Szeemann retreated with his exhibition from the “illusory freedom of the museum in the streets,” returned to the hallowed halls of art, and presented a predominantly intellectual concept in tabular form in lieu of the planned action-oriented event. His concept distinguished between “1. the reality of the visual representation, 2. the reality of the subject, and 3. the identity or nonidentity of visual representation and subject.” Bazon Brock provided the theoretical foundation in an eloquent “Audio-Visual Foreword” projected on twelve screens, accompanied by a ninety-minute lecture. In the Museum Fridericianum and the Neue (formerly Alte) Galerie, Szeemann and his team (Jean-Christophe Ammann and Bode from the working group, assisted by Brock, Ingolf Bauer, Johannes Cladders, Klaus Honnef, Eberhard Roters, Kasper König, and others as freelance consultants) designed an archipelago of diverse pictorial worlds that appealed to viewers through the juxtaposition of “high” and “low” to decide for themselves what is art and what is not.

Haus-Rucker-Co, Oase Nr.7 / Air-Unit © Gruppe Haus-Rucker Co/VG Bild-Kunst

Duane Hanson, Seated Artist (1972) © Duane Hanson/VG Bild-Kunst
Photo: Brigitte Hellgoth

Claes Oldenburg, *Maus Museum * (1972)
Photo: Balthasar Burkhard

Charles Wilp, Afri-Cola-Werbung: Intelligente Knie © Charles Wilp/VG Bild-Kunst

Chuck Close, John (1971/72)

Paul Thek, ARK, PYRAMID (1971)
Photo: Brigitte Hellgoth

In an approach that was more or less antithetical to that of the first documenta exhibitions devoted largely to abstract art, “reality”—however it may be constituted—now entered the picture. It was represented in painting by Photorealism (Robert Bechtle, Chuck Close, Richard Estes, and Franz Gertsch) and in sculpture by lifelike tableaux vivants and environments (John De Andrea, Duane Hanson, Edward Kienholz, and Paul Thek). Kienholz’s Five Car Stud (1969–72), a nightmarish depiction of racist lynch-mob justice in the United States, represented an entirely different concept of reality from Thek’s expansive and death that had a formative influence on Szeemann’s concept of “individual mythologies.” These “individual mythologies” were juxtaposed with “parallel visual worlds”: worlds of piety, political propaganda, trivial realism (kitsch), advertising and product aesthetics, and the “art of the mentally ill.” Everyday trivia and personal obsessions coexisted as equals. These were complemented by the model for Marcel Duchamps’s Boîteen-valise (1935–41) and a section featuring artists’ museums, including Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum (1972) and Marcel Broodthaers’s Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section d’Art Moderne (Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, Modern Art Section, 1972).

Edward Kienholz, *Five Car Stud * (1971)
Photo: Manfred Vollmer

Conceptual art and Happenings also contributed to shaping the image of documenta 5, and although the exhibition concept was not realized in its most radical form, the program featured a number of works that were activated through the medium of performance during the entire 100-day event: Joseph Beuys’s Büro für Direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum), works by Gilbert & George and Ben Vautier (who took up residence at documenta 5 as living sculptures), Vito Acconci’s performance space in the Friedericianum, and Anatol’s Arbeitszeit (Work Time, 1970), a workshop installed in the courtyard. James Lee Byars presented his Calling German Names performance, Jannis Kounellis created a tableau vivant featuring a violinist and a ballet dancer, and the Vienna Vienna Actionism artists associated with Hermann Nitsch were also represented. Considerably more sober was the action carried out installation entitled Arc, Pyramid (1971), a spiritual cycle of life by Hans Haacke, who conducted a sociological survey on the profiles of visitors to documenta 5 in collaboration with a computer center.

Vito Acconci, Cross-Fronts (1972)

John De Andrea, Arden Anderson and Nora Murphy (1972)
Photo: Paolo Mussat Sartor

James Lee Byars, Calling German Names (1972)
Photo: Krings

On the whole, documenta 5 achieved lasting recognition, if not cult status, with the unforgettable poster designed by Ed Ruscha with its lettering composed of teeming armies of ants. That may be attributable above all to what Szeemann himself referred to as its “subversive core.” Astonishingly, documenta 5 was criticized in its time by both conservatives and left-wing camps. For the one group, it was too process-oriented and too sociological; for the other, it was too art affirming and not radical enough. Szeemann’s profession of belief in art pour l’art was viewed as a provocation in 1972. Many artists, including both participants and nonparticipants in the exhibition, expressed severe criticism of documenta 5 as an “exhibition of an exhibition” that aimed to anoint itself as a work of art and exploited art for that purpose. In a sharply worded letter, Robert Morris forbade the exhibition of his works, which were selected and presented without his approval—misused, he wrote, for the purpose of “illustrating misguided sociological principles and categories of art history.” Along with Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, Donald Judd, Barry Le Va, Sol LeWitt, Dorothea Rockburne, Fred Sandback, Richard Serra, and Robert Smithson, he signed a declaration in  opposition to documenta, which was published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on May 12, 1972. Except for Andre, Judd, Morris, and Sandback, all those who signed were represented at documenta, however.

By replacing the defining authority of art history with individual mythologies, documenta 5 represented an upheaval in any case. And in spite of, or precisely because of, the controversy and inherent contradictions associated with the event, it continues to serve as a model for contemporary exhibition practice and the role of the exhibition maker.

Joseph Beuys, Boxkampf für direkte Demokratie (1972) © Joseph Beuys/VG Bild-Kunst

Participating Artists


  • Acconci, Vito
  • Aeschlimann, Richard
  • Agnetti, Vincenzo
  • Alexander, Peter
  • All, Toni
  • Anatol (Herzfeld, Anatol & Herzfeld, Karl Heinz)
  • Anselmo, Giovanni
  • Arbeitszeit
  • Archigram
  • Armajani, Siah
  • Arnoldi, Charles Arthur (Arnoldi, Chuck)
  • Art & Language (Art and Language & Gruppe Art & Language & Art & Language Institute)
  • Artschwager, Richard (Artschwager, Richard Ernst)
  • Asher, Michael (Asher, Mike)


  • Baldessari, John (Baldessari, John Anthony)
  • Barry, Robert
  • Baselitz, Georg (Kern, Hans-Georg)
  • Baumgarten, Lothar
  • Baumgartl, Monika
  • Becher, Bernd & Hilla (Becher, Bernhard und Hilla)
  • Bechtle, Robert (Bechtle, Robert Alan)
  • Bechtold, Gottfried (Bechthold, Gottfried)
  • Beuys, Joseph
  • Bieser, Nathalie
  • Bochner, Mel
  • Boetti, Alighiero (Alighiero & Boetti)
  • Boezem, Marinus
  • Boltanski, Christian
  • Brakhage, Stan (Brackhage, Stan)
  • Bravo, Claudio
  • Brecht, George
  • Brehmer, KP (Brehmer, Klaus-Peter & Brehmer, K. P.)
  • Broodthaers, Marcel
  • Brouwn, Stanley
  • Brus, Günter (Brus, Günther)
  • Buren, Daniel
  • Burgin, Victor
  • Buthe, Michael
  • Byars, James Lee


  • Calzolari, Pier Paolo
  • Castelli, Luciano
  • Christian, Abraham David (Christian-Moebuss, A. David)
  • Christo (Javacheff, Christo)
  • Close, Chuck (Close, Charles)
  • Conrad, Tony
  • Cooper, Ron
  • Copley, William (CPLY & Copley, William Nelson)
  • Cornell, Joseph
  • Cottingham, Robert
  • Cotton, Paul


  • Darboven, Hanne
  • De Andrea, John (Andrea, John de)
  • De Dominicis, Gino (Dominicis, Gino de)
  • Degkwitz, Hermann
  • De Maria, Walter (Maria, Walter de & DeMaria, Walter)
  • Deutsch, David
  • Dibbets, Jan (Dibbets, Gerardus Johannes Maria)
  • Distel, Herbert
  • Domnick, Ottomar
  • Dore O. (O., Dore)
  • Duchamp, Marcel (Selavy, Rose)
  • Dugger, John Scott
  • Dwoskin, Steven


  • Eddy, Don (Eddy, Donald)
  • Eggenschwiler, Franz
  • Elk, Ger van (Van Elk, Ger)
  • Estes, Richard
  • Étienne-Martin (Martin, Étienne & Étienne, Martin)


  • Fabro, Luciano
  • Fernie, John C.
  • Filliou, Robert
  • Fine, Jud
  • Fisher, Joel
  • Flanagan, Barry
  • Fox, Terry
  • Frampton, Hollis
  • Fried, Howard Lee (Fried, Howard)
  • Fulton, Hamish


  • Gearson, Barry
  • Gertsch, Franz
  • Gigliotti, Vittorio
  • Gilbert & George (Gilbert and George)
  • Goings, Ralph
  • Gojowczyk, Hubertus (Gojowczik, Hubertus)
  • Gottheim, Larry
  • Graham, Dan
  • Graves, Nancy


  • Haacke, Hans
  • Hanson, Duane
  • Harloff, Guy
  • Harvey, Michael
  • Haus-Rucker-Co (Haus Rucker & Co & Rucker-Co)
  • Hein, W + B (Hein, W. und B.)
  • Herbin, Auguste
  • Hesse, Eva
  • Hiestand, E. + U. (Hiestand, Ernst und Ursula)
  • Horn, Rebecca
  • Hucleux, Jean-Olivier
  • Huebler, Douglas


  • Immendorff, Jörg
  • Insley, Will
  • Iseli, Rolf


  • Jacobs, Ken (Jacobs, Kenneth)
  • Jenney, Neil
  • Jensen, Al (Jensen, Alfred)
  • Johns, Jasper
  • Jonas, Joan


  • Kanovitz, Howard
  • Kienholz, Edward
  • Knoebel, Imi (Knoebel, Wolfgang & Knoebel, Wolf & Knoebel, Klaus Wolf)
  • Kohlhöfer, Chris (Kohlhöfer, Christof)
  • Kounellis, Jannis
  • Kovachevich, Thomas
  • Kowalski, Piotr


  • Lamelas, David
  • Landow, George (Land, Owen)
  • Le Gac, Jean (Gac, Jean Le & LeGac, Jean)
  • Leslie, Alfred
  • Le Va, Barry (Va, Barry Le & LeVa, Barry)
  • LeWitt, Sol (Le Witt, Sol)
  • Long, Richard
  • Lüscher, Ingeborg


  • Mahn, Inge
  • Mangold, Robert
  • Marden, Brice
  • Martin, Agnes
  • Mazzoleni, Donatella
  • McLean, Richard
  • Medalla, David (Medalla y Mosqueda, David Cortez & Cortez Medalla y Mosqueda, David)
  • Meier, Dieter
  • Melani, Fernando
  • Melchert, Jim
  • Merz, Mario
  • Metzger, Gustav
  • Meyer, Russ (Mayer, Russ)
  • Minnich, Bernd
  • Morley, Malcolm
  • Moses, Ed (Moses, Edward)


  • Nauman, Bruce
  • Nekes, Werner
  • Nitsch, Hermann
  • Noren, Andrew


  • Oldenburg, Claes
  • Ono, Yoko
  • Oppenheim, Dennis


  • Page (Page, Robin)
  • Palermo (Palermo, Blinky & Schwarze, Peter & Heisterkamp, Peter)
  • Panamarenko (Herwegen, Henri van)
  • Paolini, Giulio
  • Penck, A. R. (Winkler, Ralph & Winkler, Ralf)
  • Penone, Giuseppe
  • Pfeufer, Joachim
  • Pfund, Roger & Elisabeth
  • Pisani, Vettor
  • Polke, Sigmar
  • Portoghesi, Paolo
  • Posen, Stephen
  • Praunheim, Rosa von


  • Raetz, Markus
  • Rainer, Arnulf
  • Richter, Gerhard
  • Rimmer, David
  • Rinke, Klaus
  • Rockburne, Dorothea
  • Roehr, Peter
  • Rossi, Aldo Loris
  • Rückriem, Ulrich
  • Ruppersberg, Allen
  • Ruscha, Edward (Ruscha, Ed)
  • Ruthenbeck, Reiner
  • Ryman, Robert


  • Salt, John
  • Samaras, Lucas
  • Saree, Günter
  • Sarkisian, Paul
  • Schnyder, Jean-Frédéric
  • Schonzeit, Ben
  • Schroeter, Werner
  • Schult, HA (Schult, Hans Jürgen)
  • Schwarzkogler, Rudolf
  • Schwegler, Fritz
  • Serra, Richard
  • Sharits, Paul
  • Shields, Alan
  • Siegelaub, Seth
  • Sieverding, Katharina
  • Smithson, Robert
  • Snow, Michael
  • Solomon, Holly
  • Sommer, Irm & Ed (Sommer, Ed & Irm)
  • Sonnier, Keith
  • Spielvogel, Bert
  • Staeck, Klaus
  • Staiger, Paul
  • Stever, Jorge (Stever, Jorge B.)
  • Strübin, Robert


  • Thek, Paul
  • Thiebaud, Wayne
  • Thomkins, André
  • Trans-Parent Teacher's Ink
  • Tremlett, David
  • Tuttle, Richard


  • Upnmoor, Bernd


  • Vautier, Ben (Ben)


  • Walther, Franz Erhard
  • Watts, Robert
  • Wegman, William
  • Weigel, Bertram
  • Weiner, Lawrence
  • Welch, Roger
  • Wesley, John
  • Westermann, Horace Clifford (Westermann, H. C. & Clifford Westermann, Horac)
  • Wieland, Joyce
  • Wiley, William T. (Wiley, William)
  • Wilp, Charles
  • Winnewisser, Rolf
  • Wölfli, Adolf
  • Wudl, Tom (Wudl, Thomas)
  • Wyborny, Klaus


  • Young, La Monte & Zazeela, Marian (La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela & Zazeela, Marian & La Monte Young)
  • Young, Peter


  • Zorio, Gilberto

Artistic Director
Harald Szeemann (1933–2005)

Born in 1933 in Bern, died in 2005 in Tagna, Ticino, Switzerland


Studied art history, archeology, and journalism, University of Bern, Bern, and the Institut d’ Art et d’ Histoire, Sorbonne, Paris


Founding of the Ein-Mensch-Theater, Bern


Director of the Kunsthalle Bern, Bern


Artistic Director of documenta 5, Kassel

ab 1973

Freelance exhibition organizer


Artistic Director of the Biennale di Venezia, Venice

since 1981

Permanent freelance associate, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich


Artistic Director of the Biennale di Venezia, Venice


Artistic Director of the Biennale di Venezia, Venice

Exhibitions (selection):


Christo (Kunsthallenverpackung) 50 Jahre Kunsthalle Bern/12 Environments, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern


When Attitudes Become Form, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern


documenta 5, Kassel


Junggesellenmaschinen Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, and eight other exhibition venues in Europe


Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich, u. a.


Joseph Beuys, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich

Awards (selection):


Awarded the Hessian Culture Prize for his work as the Artistic Director of documenta 5 (posthumously)