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Exhibition politics. Documenta and the GDR

Dictatorship Research / Research field
Culture and Media History / Research focus 
11.2021–09.2022 / Period (Project completed)


The publication project Exhibition politics. Documenta and the GDR (AT), which is to be published in autumn of 2022 by Hatje Cantz Verlag as part of the documenta archive's publication series, aims to explore the complex relationship history between the federal "Weltkunstausstellung" (world art exhibition) in Kassel and the German Democratic Republic. The foundation for this lies in previously unknown or unpublished sources (personal estates, ego-documents, film and photographic material, as well as written archival materials etc.) by artists and actors from the GDR and Federal Republic. The overwhelming disinterest of the documenta makers in the GDR's art until the 1990s has led to a situation in which little scientific research has been undertaken on how the different teams of makers ("Macher-Teams") around Arnold Bode, Harald Szeemann, Manfred Schneckenburger, Rudi Fuchs, Jan Hoet and Catherine David viewed the GDR and the official art of socialist realism between 1955 and 1997 and how, in turn, the documenta, dubbed "Monsterschau" ("monster show"), was received in the GDR. The publication, which is underpinned by a variety of interviews with contemporary witnesses, represents an opportunity to provide answers and, in doing so, to offer a new building block in the "relationship analysis" ("Beziehungsanalyse", Karl-Siegbert Rehberg) between Eastern Germany and Kassel.

The publication aims to

  1. systematise and make public the research results and interviews,
  2. inspire further research into the topic, and
  3. broaden the view beyond existing documenta historiography - to the political background of the Cold War and the documenta as a place of self-perception/external perception and of the generation of cultural, political and social identity.

The project is situated in exhibition research. In it, like in artistic and curatorial discourses at large, the relationship between art and politics has been addressed extensively. Especially the figure of thought of the "policity of exhibitions" ("Polizität von Ausstellungen") as discussed by Verena Krieger and Elisabeth Fritz in 2016 is considered fruitful for the project presented here. The fact that the political is hidden in "every detail" (Julia Ault) of an exhibition, that "art is the sister of politics" (Klaus Staeck), makes possible to consider equally the materials found in visual and material culture.

The project is headed by Dr. Alexia Pooth and funded by the Christian C.D. Ludwig Foundation as well as the Gerda Henkel Stiftung. It is developed in cooperation with HAIT and the documenta archiv in Kassel.