II. documenta
11 July – 11 October 1959
Art after 1945. International Exhibition

Artistic Director

Arnold Bode
Mitarbeit: Rudolf Staege


Museum Fridericianum, Orangerie, Schloss Bellevue






991,000 DM

Arnold Bode in front of Jackson Pollock (1955)

Where swastikas had dominated the scene in 1933, the ubiquitous small d now graced posters and flags all over Friedrichsplatz in Kassel. Documenta had become an established brand by the time of its second presentation. The exhibition was institutionalized through the establishment of a management company, documenta GmbH, and would now take place every four years. Whereas the documenta of 1955, with its revival of the avant-garde following the “lost years” of the National Socialist era, had been conceived by necessity as a retrospective, the objective was now to bridge the gap to contemporary art. Once again, Arnold Bode was assisted by Werner Haftmann. The survey of art after 1945 was undertaken entirely in keeping with the slogan “Art has become abstract”—a concept that stirred heated controversy within a climate dominated by a fundamental debate on contemporary art, in which the opponents and the advocates of abstract art waged bitter battles. Haftmann substantiated his theory in two subsections: “Master Teachers of Twentieth-Century Art” (which included only Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Piet Mondrian) and “Pioneers of Twentieth-Century Sculpture” (Julio Gonzáles, Henri Laurens, Henri Matisse, et al.). Although a number of figurative currents were presented at documenta 2 (in painting by such artists as Francis Bacon, Werner Heldt, and Rudolf Hausner), Haftmann postulated in his concept a continuity in the development of twentieth-century art that culminated in abstraction—a theory that did not stand the test of time in view of the diverse manifestations of art in the twentieth century.

Museum Fridericianum (1959)

Ossip Zadkine, La Ville Détruite (1951-1953)

Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Das Freiburger Bild (1956)

Willem de Kooning

Max Bill, Rhythmus im Raum (1947/48) © Max Bill/VG Bild-Kunst
Photo: Günther Becker

Alexander Calder, Hextopus (1955) © Alexander Calder/VG Bild-Kunst; Edwin Scharff, Pandora (1952-53) © Edwin Scharff/VG Bild-Kunst
Photo: Klaus Täckelburg

Realist tendencies were almost entirely overlooked at documenta 2—an unmistakably clear political statement at the height of the Cold War. The abstract currents of Informal art and Tachism played a dominant role at the Fridericianum. A particularly spectacular development was the inclusion (some even spoke of an “invasion”) of abstract artists from the U.S., featuring formats that appeared gigantic to Europeans at the time—among them Jackson Pollock, who, like Nicolas de Staël, Willi Baumeister, and Wols, exhibited in a room of his own. The Fridericianum was joined by a second exhibition venue: the ruins of the Baroque Orangerie at the entrance to the Karlsaue, which had also been destroyed by bombs during the World War II. Bode’s enthusiasm for grand productions was particularly evident in that setting. A boulevard of sculptures was laid out in stylish white exhibition architecture in front of the ruins of the Orangerie and spectacularly illuminated at night. Ossip Zadkine’s bronze entitled The Destroyed City (1951–53) stretched its arms toward the heavens in a highly charged symbolic gesture outside the ruins. During the day, visitors were invited to rest on organically curved reclining chairs beneath sunshades and observe the fountains in a basin built expressly for Picasso’s sculpture group The Bathers (1956). Sculptures (figurative positions were predominant here, in contrast to those represented in paintings) by Henry Moore, Henri Laurens, Jacques Lipchitz, Norbert Kricke, and others were enthroned on pedestals in front of a whitewashed wall. The broad reaches of the Karlswiese would not be opened to sculptures until later documentas. In addition to the Painting and Sculpture Committee (consisting of Bode, Herbert Freiherr v. Buttlar, Ernest Goldschmidt, Will Grohmann, Haftmann, Ernst Holzinger, Kurt Martin, Werner Schmalenbach, Eduard Trier, Heinrich Stücke; and Porter A. McCray from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for the American artists), there was also a committee for print graphics (comprised of Bode, Schmalenbach, and Heinrich Stünke), which were presented in a separate exhibition at Schloss Bellevue.


Pablo Picasso, Les baigneurs (1957) © Pablo Picasso/VG Bild-Kunst
Photo: Günther Becker

The exhibition featured a total of 1,770 works by 336 artists (of whom only eleven were women), primarily from Europe and the U.S. Drawing 134,000 visitors, documenta 2 attracted more guests than its predecessor (and the number of visitors rose continuously up to and including the thirteenth and most recent documenta in 2012), although public response was no longer as consistently positive as it had been in 1955. Public opinion was highly polarized—as reflected by the camps of the opponents and the advocates of abstract art—and ranged from enthusiastic approval to outright rejection.

Participating Artists


  • Acht, René (Acht, René Charles)
  • Adam, Henri-Georges (Adam, Georges-Henri)
  • Aeschbacher, Hans
  • Afro (Basaldella, Afro)
  • Altenbourg, Gerhard (Ströch, Gerhard)
  • Appel, Karel
  • Ardon, Mordechai (Ardon, Mordecai & Bronstein, Marek)
  • Armitage, Kenneth
  • Arp, Hans (Arp, Jean)


  • Bakić, Vojin
  • Bargheer, Eduard
  • Battke, Heinz
  • Batz, Eugen
  • Baumeister, Willi
  • Bazaine, Jean (Bazaine, Jean René)
  • Baziotes, William
  • Beaudin, André
  • Beck, Gustav Kurt
  • Beckmann, Max
  • Bellmer, Hans
  • Bergman, Anna-Eva
  • Berke, Hubert
  • Bertrand, Gaston
  • Bill, Max
  • Birolli, Renato
  • Bissière, Roger
  • Bissier, Julius
  • Bloc, André
  • Bluhm, Norman
  • Boccioni, Umberto
  • Bodmer, Walter
  • Bonnet, Anne
  • Brâncuşi, Constantin (Brâncuşi, C. & Brincusi, Constantin)
  • Braque, Georges
  • Brauner, Victor
  • Braun, Theo
  • Brooks, James
  • Brüning, Peter
  • Buchheister, Carl
  • Burri, Alberto
  • Burssens, Jan (Burrsens, Jan)
  • Butler, Reg (Butler, Reginald Cotterell)


  • Calder, Alexander
  • Camaro, Alexander
  • Campigli, Massimo
  • Capogrossi, Giuseppe
  • Cappello, Carmelo
  • Cassinari, Bruno
  • Castro, Sergio de (De Castro, Sergio)
  • Cavallon, Giorgio
  • César (Baldaccini, César)
  • Chadwick, Lynn
  • Childs, Bernhard
  • Chillida, Eduardo
  • Cimiotti, Emil
  • Clavé, Antoni
  • Cliffe, Henry
  • Coester, Otto
  • Consagra, Pietro
  • Constant (Nieuwenhuys, Constant A.)
  • Corneille (Beverloo, Cornelis Guillaume van)
  • Corpora, Antonio
  • Courtin, Pierre
  • Cousins, Harold B.
  • Cuixart, Modesto


  • Dahmen, Karl Fred
  • Davie, Alan
  • De Chirico, Giorgio (Chirico, Giorgio de)
  • Degottex, Jean
  • Delahaye, Jacques Charles
  • Delaunay, Robert
  • Delvaux, Paul
  • Derain, André
  • Deyrolle, Jean Jacques
  • Dodeigne, Eugène
  • Dorazio, Piero
  • Dova, Gianni
  • Dubuffet, Jean
  • Dufour, Bernard
  • Dunoyer de Ségonzac, André Dunoyer (Ségonzac, André Dunoyer de & De Ségonzac, André Dunoyer)


  • Eble, Theo
  • Ernst, Max (Ernst, Maximilian)
  • Estève, Maurice
  • Evans, Merlyn


  • Faßbender, Joseph
  • Fautrier, Jean
  • Fazzini, Pericle
  • Fedier, Franz
  • Feito, Luis
  • Ferber, Herbert
  • Fontana, Lucio
  • Franchina, Nino
  • Francis, Sam
  • Frankenthaler, Helen
  • Franz Lambert)
  • Friedel)
  • Friesz, Othon


  • Gabo, Naum (Pevsner, Naum Nehemia Boriosowitsch)
  • Gaul, Winfred (Gaul, Winfried)
  • Geiger, Rupprecht
  • Georges, Claude
  • Germain, Jacques
  • Giacometti, Alberto
  • Gilioli, Emile
  • Gilles, Werner
  • Gillet, Roger Edgar
  • Goldberg, Michael
  • Goller, Bruno
  • Gonzalez, Julio (Gonzales, Julio)
  • Gorky, Arshile (Gorki, Arshile)
  • Gottlieb, Adolph
  • Götz, Karl Otto (Götz, K. O.)
  • Greis, Otto
  • Grieshaber, HAP (Grieshaber, H.A.P. & Grieshaber,
  • Gris, Juan (Gonzalez, José Victoriano)
  • Gromaire, Marcel
  • Guston, Philip
  • Gyözö)


  • Haass, Terry
  • Haese, Roël d' (D'Haese, Roël)
  • Hajdu, Etienne
  • Hajek, Otto-Herbert
  • Hantaï, Simon
  • Harnest, Fritz
  • Hartigan, Grace
  • Hartung, Hans
  • Hartung, Karl
  • Hausner, Rudolf
  • Hayter, Stanley William
  • Heiliger, Bernhard
  • Heldt, Werner
  • Helmut Andreas Paul)
  • Hepworth, Barbara
  • Herbin, Auguste
  • Herkenrath, Peter
  • Hermanns, Ernst
  • Heyboer, Anton
  • Hilton, Roger
  • Hoehme, Gerhard
  • Hoflehner, Rudolf
  • Hofmann, Hans


  • Inoue, Yûichi (Inoue, Yû-Ichi & YÛ-ICHI)
  • Iseli, Rolf


  • Jacobsen, Robert
  • Jansen, Franz M. (Jansen, Franz Mathilde & Jansen,
  • Jendritzko, Guido
  • Jorn, Asger (Jørgensen, Asger Oluf)


  • Kandinsky, Wassily (Kandinsky, Wassily Wassilijewitsch & Kandinski, Vassili & Kandinsky, Vassily & Kandinskij, Vasilij)
  • Kantor, Tadeusz
  • Kemeny, Zoltan
  • Kermadec, Eugène de (De Kermadec, Eugène)
  • Kirchner, Ernst-Ludwig (Kirchner, Ludwig)
  • Kirchner, Heinrich
  • Klee, Paul
  • Kline, Franz (Kline, Franz Josef)
  • Koenig, Fritz
  • Kohler, Max
  • Kokoschka, Oskar
  • Kooning, Willem de (de Kooning, Willem)
  • Kricke, Norbert
  • Kügler, Rudolf


  • Lam, Wifredo (Lam y Castilla, Wifredo Oscar de la Concepción)
  • Landhuyt, Octave
  • Lanskoy, André
  • Lanyon, Peter
  • Lardera, Berto
  • Lassaw, Ibram
  • Lataster, Ger
  • Laurens, Henri
  • Lebenstein, Jan (Lebensztejn, Jan)
  • Le Corbusier (Jeanneret, Charles-Edouard & Corbusier)
  • Le Moal, Jean (Moal, Jean Le & LeMoal, Jean)


  • Malevic, Kasimir (Malevich, Kazimir Sewerinowitsch
  • & Malewitsch, Kasimir & Malevic, Kasimir & Malewitsch, Kasimir Sewerinowitsch & Malevitch, Kazimir & Malevic, Kasimir Severinovic)
  • Manessier, Alfred
  • Manzù, Giacomo (Manzoni, Giacomo)
  • Marca-Relli, Conrad (Marca-Relli, Corrado di & Relli, Conrad Marca-)
  • Marc, Franz
  • Marcks, Gerhard
  • Marczynski, Adam
  • Marfaing, André
  • Marini, Marino
  • Marquet, Albert (Marquet, Pierre Léopold Albert)
  • Masson, André
  • Mastroianni, Umberto
  • Mataré, Ewald
  • Mathieu, Georges
  • Matisse, Henri
  • Matschinsky-Denninghoff, Brigitte (Denninghoff, Brigitte Matschinsky- & Meier-Denninghoff, Brigitte)
  • Matta, Roberto Sebastian (Matta & Echaurren, Roberto Sebastian Antonio Matta)
  • Meadows, Bernard
  • Meistermann, Georg
  • Mendelson, Marc
  • Merwart, Ludwig
  • Mettel, Hans
  • Michaux, Henri
  • Minassian, Leone
  • Mirko (Basaldella, Mirko)
  • Miró, Joan
  • Mitchell, Joan
  • Mondrian, Piet (Mondriaan, Pieter C. & Mondriaan,
  • Moore, Henry
  • Morandi, Giorgio
  • Moreni, Mattia
  • Morlotti, Ennio
  • Mortensen, Richard
  • Motherwell, Robert
  • Mühlenen, Max von
  • Müller-Hufschmid, Willi (Hufschmid, Willi Müller-)
  • Müller, Robert
  • Murtic, Edo


  • Nay, Ernst Wilhelm (Nay, E. W.)
  • Nele, E. R. (Nele-Riehle, E. R., Eva Renée & Bode, Nele)
  • Nemes, Endre
  • Nesch, Rolf (Nesch, Emil Rudolf)
  • Newman, Barnett
  • Nicholson, Ben
  • Noguchi, Isamu
  • Nolan, Sidney Robert (Nolan, Sidney)
  • Nolde, Emil (Hansen, Emil)


  • Oelze, Richard
  • Orgeix, Christian de
  • Ostrower, Fayga


  • Paolozzi, Eduardo (Paolozzi, Eduardo Luigi)
  • Pasmore, Victor
  • Penalba, Alicia
  • Perilli, Achille
  • Pevsner, Antoine
  • Piaubert, Jean
  • Picasso, Pablo (Picasso, Pablo Ruiz)
  • Piet)
  • Pignon, Edouard
  • Piza, Arthur Luiz
  • Platschek, Hans
  • Poliakoff, Serge (Poljakov, Sergej & Poljakow, Sergei)
  • Pollock, Jackson
  • Pomodoro, Arnaldo
  • Pomodoro, Gio
  • Potworowski, Peter
  • Pousette-Dart, Richard (Dart, Richard Pousette-)
  • Prassinos, Mario


  • Rauschenberg, Robert (Rauschenberg, Milton Ernest)
  • Rebeyrolle, Paul
  • Richier, Germaine
  • Riedl, Fritz (Riedl, Friedrich)
  • Riopelle, Jean Paul
  • Ris, Günter Ferdinand (Ris, G. F.)
  • Ritschl, Otto
  • Roesch, Kurt
  • Rohde, Gerburg (Rhode, Gerburg)
  • Rompel, Hans
  • Roszak, Theodore
  • Rothko, Mark (Rothkowitz, Marcus)
  • Rouault, Georges (Rouault, Georges Henri)


  • Santomaso, Giuseppe
  • Saura, Antonio
  • Scanavino, Emilio
  • Schaper, Karl
  • Scharff, Edwin
  • Schlemmer, Oskar
  • Schneider, Gérard (Schneider, Gérard Ernest)
  • Schoeffer, Nicolas (Schöffer, Nicolas & Schoffer, Nicolas)
  • Schultze, Bernard (Schultze, Bernhard)
  • Schumacher, Emil
  • Schwitters, Kurt
  • Scialoja, Toti
  • Scott, William
  • Seitz, Gustav
  • Serpan, Jaroslaw (Serpan)
  • Seuphor, Michel (Berckelaers, Fernand Louis)
  • Stadler, Toni
  • Staël, Nicolas de (De Staël, Nicolas)
  • Stahly, François
  • Stamos, Theodoros
  • Still, Clyfford
  • Stupica, Gabrijel
  • Sugai, Kumi
  • Sutherland, Graham
  • Szenes, Árpád


  • Tajiri, Shinkichi
  • Tal-Coat, Pierre (Coat, Pierre Tal- & Jacob, Pierre)
  • Tamayo, Rufino
  • Tanguy, Yves
  • Tanning, Dorothea
  • Tàpies, Antoni (Puig, A.T.)
  • Tejima, Yûkei
  • Thieler, Fred
  • Tobey, Mark
  • Tomlin, Bradley Walker
  • Trier, Hann
  • Trökes, Heinz
  • Trsar, Drago
  • Turcato, Giulio
  • Twardowicz, Ann
  • Tworkov, Jack


  • Ubac, Raoul
  • Uhlmann, Hans


  • Van Lint, Louis (Lint, Louis van)
  • Vasarely, Victor (Vasarely, Victor de & Vásárhelyi,
  • Vedova, Emilio
  • Velde, Geer van (Van Velde, Geer)
  • 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)
  • Vordemberge-Gildewart, Friedrich (Gildewart, Friedrich Vordemberge- & Vordemberge-Gildewart,


  • Wendland, Gerhard
  • Werdehausen, Hans
  • Werner, Theodor
  • Werner, Woty (Woty & Werner, Anneliese)
  • Wind, Gerhard
  • Winter, Fritz
  • Wolf, Karl Anton
  • Wols (Schulze, Wolfgang)
  • Wotruba, Fritz
  • Wynter, Bryan


  • Yamazaki, Taiho


  • Zadkine, Ossip
  • Zimmermann, Mac
  • Zürn, Unica

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)