Every five years, an exhibition featuring some of the world’s most talented and provocative visual artists is held in Kassel, Germany. The exhibit is called documenta, and it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to celebrate, puzzle over, and occasionally lambast the work displayed.
In 1968, filmmaker Jef Cornelis shot a documentary about the exhibition called documenta 4, offering a rare look at artists, curators, and critics discussing artistic styles, politics, and the issue of commercialism.
San Luis Obispo Museum of Art will host a screening of documenta 4 on Monday, Jan. 20, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 for members, $7 for the general public. According to the museum website, the film is part of a new Archives collection by JRP/Ringier dedicated to compiling source material devoted to landmark exhibitions and curatorial practices.
The film includes interviews with artists Christo, Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Beuys, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, and Ed Keinholz, among many others. The artists, in some cases, even attempt to “explain” their work to the interviewer.
The exhibition documenta, known for its length as the “museum of 100 days,” began in 1955 when artist, teacher, and curator Arnold Bode created the exhibition out of a desire to reconnect Germany to the artistic movements that had been cut off during the Third Reich. documenta 1 (the exhibits are titled in lowercase) featured Picasso and Kandinsky, and ever since has been a major happening in the art world, showcasing works of great power and significance, including a large number of installation and performance art pieces.
No exhibition so large could escape criticism of its content, and documenta continues to push boundaries and irk critics to this day, even while growing in attendance every year. In 2012, documenta 13 had nearly 905,000 visitors between June and September. New York Times critic Roberta Smith called it “alternately inspiring … and insufferable” because of its sprawling and chaotic nature.
Documenta 4 provides a unique opportunity to hear artists describe their works and also witness the reactions to them. Christo, whose work 5,600 Cubicmeter Package resembles an enormous flying sausage, smiles slyly when the interviewer asks bluntly if his work is a sexual symbol. “If you think it looks like a sexual symbol, maybe,” he says.
See sloma.org for full details.