January 16, 2018

Artists Call for Documenta to Reinstate Annette Kulenkampff as CEO

KASSEL, GERMANY—An open letter published on e-flux signed by artists, curators, scholars, and museum directors is urging members of Documenta’s board to reinstate Annette Kulenkampff, the former CEO of the parent company that operates the quinquennial art exhibition, which has been held in Kassel, Germany, since 1955. Kulenkampff resigned last November one year before her contract ended after Documenta 14, revealed that it had accrued a deficit of about $8.3 million.

The letter’s signatories claim that local and state politicians are failing to take responsibility for Documenta’s financial woes, which have being unfairly blamed on the management team and the exhibition’s Athens program. The document argues that the nonprofit’s shareholders want to ramp up the “pure commercialization” and “marketing of the Documenta brand.” The letter also criticizes the German politicians who have remained silent when the far-right AfD party designated an artwork by Olu Oguibe as “disfigured art,” a phrase that recalls “degenerate art,” a term used by the Nazis to describe contemporary art.

Signatories expressed concern about the possibility of Documenta’s nonprofit status being repealed. “This means relocating responsibility, concentrating revenues on the public purse, and at the same time minimizing freedom of the arts. The planned legal framework aims at nothing other than to align conceptual and artistic freedom with purely budgetary restrictions,“ they said. ”Ignoring the advice of all experts, the mayor and the state of Hessen have unnecessarily raised doubts about whether Kassel is still the right location for Documenta."

The signatories called for a budget that is “adapted to the requirements of a global art event with worldwide impact that is unique in its dimensions.” Other demands include the continuation of Documenta’s research and archive initiatives as well as the establishment of an international advisory board that would work closely with Documenta gGmbH, the exhibition’s nonprofit. The open letter comes on the heels of several others, the latest of which demanded that the exhibition implement a new supervisory structure in order to retain its autonomy.

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