September 25, 2017

Documenta’s Parent Company Releases Interim Audit Report, Announces Structural Changes

KASSEL, GERMANY—After last week’s revelation that the international edition of this year’s Documenta exhibition is facing a deficit of about $8.3 million, a situation that has been addressed by both the curatorial team and the artists in the show, an interim report put together by independent auditors for a board meeting of the parent company, Documenta gGmbH, was released yesterday, according to a report by Henri Neuendorf at artnet. At a press conference following the meeting, representatives of two shareholders, the mayor of Kassel and board chair Christian Geselle, and Hessian minister for science and art Boris Rhein, disclosed some of the preliminary findings of the audit and announced structural changes within the organization.

The mayor noted that the budget for Documenta 14 between 2014 and 2018 totaled €34 million (about $40.6 million), including an allocation of €2 million (about $2.3 million) for the show in Athens. Half of the exhibition’s budget was provided by Hesse and Kassel, while the other half—as per tradition—was to be raised by organizers of the quinquennial through ticketing, merchandising, and sponsorships. Geselle confirmed the previous reports that the primary source of overspending was due to the expansion of Documenta to Athens, noting that the company recorded a loss of €5.4 million (about $6.4 million) between January 1 and July 31, a period that coincides with the run of Documenta’s Athens exhibition from April 8 to July 16. Interestingly, Geselle noted that while revenues exceeded expectations, losses exceeded expectations as well.

The mayor emphasized that the figure of €5.4 million should be distinguished from the total projected deficit for the fiscal year, which has been estimated at €7 million (about $8.3 million) and first reported by the German newspaper HNA. In order to offset this projected shortfall, Documenta’s advisory board approved a loan guarantee of €8 million (about $9.5 million) to be shared equally between the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse, with an additional €1 million (about $1.1 million) as a buffer. Geselle’s statement insisted: “It’s not a loan, but a guarantee . . . We, the city of Kassel are not paying cash into the documenta gGmbH.” In other words, the guarantee means that Documenta’s parent company can now obtain a bank loan required to prevent the company’s insolvency—although the package must still be ratified by Kassel’s city council in a hearing next Monday.

Additionally, in order to prevent similar financial problems in the future, Geselle and Rhein announced that the board at Documenta gGmbH is looking to implement new organizational, personnel, and financial structures. For now, CEO Annette Kulenkampff and the present management team will remain in place, although it is expected that Kulenkampff’s contract will not be renewed when it expires in 2018. “We were not made aware of the deficit until it was too late,” Rhein stressed. He added, “We would have taken immediate action otherwise,” while confirming that the information was first presented to them on August 28.

The representatives for the two politicians concluded that it was too early to ascertain exactly where the money was spent, and who authorized it, or who failed to stop the overspending that led to the current situation. Citing the ongoing independent audit, they added that a full report is expected to be available this November. Stay tuned.

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