1 1972: The Rise of the Star-Curator

Exhibitions in this chapter: documenta 5: Befragung der Realität, Bildwelten heute (documenta 5: Questioning reality, image worlds today) (1972, Kassel, Germany)


The focus of this chapter is documenta 5: Befragung der Realität, Bildwelten heute (Questioning reality: Image worlds today), the landmark 1972 edition of documenta. Founded in 1955 by veteran art historian Arnold Bode and now held every five years in the German city of Kassel, documenta was from the outset intended to be a survey exhibition of modern art. Although it initially played a secondary role to a monster-sized flower show in this small provincial city – located closer to the East German border than to Cologne or Düsseldorf, West Germany's principal art centers – documenta is now widely regarded as the most important mega-exhibition of all.1 Inclusion in documenta is an even surer marker of an artist's importance than selection into Venice, São Paulo, or any of the other biennials described in this book.

documenta 5 was directed by the immensely influential Swiss curator Harald Szeemann. Even at the start of the 1970s, the charismatic Szeemann already had a reputation for adventurous, large-scale survey shows. This was largely the result of the notoriety and excitement surrounding his exhibition at the Bern Kunsthalle, Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form: Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information (1969). When Attitudes Become Form was in ...

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