documenta fifteen – in the Eye of the Hurricane

Klaus Siebenhaar’s most recent „digilog“ seminar „documenta fifteen. Idea, Concept, Artistic Practices in the Context of documenta History“ for the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing couldn’t have been more up to date: As an author of the several books on the documenta Klaus Siebenhaar gave 19 chinesischen students a thorough and comprehensive overview of the development of documenta in Kassel, from the first world art exhibition in 1955 through to today’s much debated documenta fifteen. This included the relevant artistic, political and social contexts as well as the transformations in curatorial and educational paradigms that mirrored the societal disruptions of this period.

For this endeavour the seminar used a wide span of digital and hybrid forms of education. The starting session was transmitted to China  from a temporary broadcasting studio prepared by the project partner mfe in the Reinbeckhallen, in the very middle of Berlin’s Electropolis of Modernity from the beginning of the 20th century – it reached the Chinese students in their homes where they have to stay because of the COVID restrictions still in place.

Following this start at an historis site the students passed an intense online parcour through the history of documenta and the development of curating and art education impersonated by the seminal artistic leaders from Arnold Bode across Harald Szeemann, Jan Hoet, Catherine David, Okwui Enwezor through to today’s artistic directors, the collective ruangrupa.

The seminar reached its climax at the beginning of July with a three-day hybrid on-site part in the city of Kassel at the documenta fifteen that had just opened – a lecture-event organised together with the documenta Archive as a project partner. In a series of live-panels the Chinese students discussed with different players of this largest art exhibition of the world: with members of the curatorial team, with the deputy head of the documenta Archive, with the head of education, and with an artist from the collective „Inland“ that is exhibiting in the Museum of Natural History in the Ottoneum in Kassel.

Alongside Klaus Siebenhaar and Achim Müller turned into video and photo podcasters: In several walkthroughs they explored the documenta fifteen, reporting and commenting live from their art walks per smart phone cameras .

This way they gave the students a vivid experience of the exhibited art, of the exhibition’s connection to urban spaces at documenta’s different locations in Kassel –  and of the broad and positive public resonance despite all political and media discussions.

This overview also covered the works of Taring Padi, the Indonesian collective that has been in the focus of a lot of criticism because of antisemitic images in the removed work „People’s Justice“, who are showing their universe in the Hallenbad-Ost in Kassel Bettenhausen.

At the end of the seminar the students have to become creative themselves: On the basis of their newly acquired knowledge about the development of documenta and the about the trends in exhbition design, curation and art education their seminar thesis will consist of a concept for the documenta 16 coming up in 2027. As a first real-life check for their ideas they met the internationally renowned artist Christian Jankowski, who dialed into the online seminar from his studio for a three-hour workshop in a final culmination of this lecture series.


The seminar program for a quick orientation on the lecture subjects: