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German art exhibition Documenta 14 puts Athens in spotlight

Documenta 14 is a contemporary art exhibition that is held every five years in Kassel, Germany.

art and culture Updated: Apr 08, 2017 14:41 IST
A visitor views the art work
A visitor views the art work "Artist book" by Daniel Knorr during "Documenta 14" art exhibition in Athens, Greece on Thursday. (Reuters)

One of the world’s premier art events opened in Athens on Saturday, bringing a much-needed spotlight, artistic inspiration and visitor boost to crisis-hit Greece’s run-down capital.

Documenta 14, the contemporary art exhibition held every five years in Kassel, Germany, puts over 160 international artists on display across the city in over 40 public institutions, squares, cinemas, university campuses and libraries, showcasing painting, performances, sculpture and sound art.

Documenta was originally launched in 1955 by art professor Arnold Bode to draw attention to works banned by the Nazis as degenerate. Some 860,000 people visited the last exhibition in 2012. Athens officials hope for over 6,500 visitors now. In Kassel, the event will run from June to September 17.

A visitor walks past an installation by Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuna, at the National museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, on Friday. (AFP)

In choosing to co-host the event in the Greek capital, organisers said they were inspired by the country’s economic crisis and immigration challenges. Shrouded in secrecy until the last minute, the 100-day Greek leg is titled ‘Learning from Athens’.

Appropriately, a large segment is devoted to immigration and displacement. Saturday’s inauguration will feature the Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra, an ensemble largely made up of war refugees.

Kassel mayor Bertram Hilgen told a news conference this week that art could “overcome borders, build bridges and create common ground (for people) to live together.”

People look at an installation by Spanish artist Daniel Garcia Andujar entitled "The disasters of War" at the National museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, on Friday. (AFP)

Over a million refugees and migrants have come through the country since 2015, most of them fleeing civil war in Syria, and over 50,000 are stuck in camps here. Greece is still struggling with recession and soaring unemployment seven years after nearly going bankrupt in 2010.

“What did we learn from Athens? That we all must abandon our prejudices and plunge into the darkness of not knowing,” Documenta’s Polish-born artistic director Adam Szymczyk told reporters.

On Sunday, horse riders will file beneath the Acropolis in a re-enactment of the Panathenaic procession, a 5th century BC celebration to honour goddess Athena, and immortalised as a frieze atop the Parthenon.

A visitor views art works by Ashley Hans Scheirl. (Reuters)

Titled ‘The Transit of Hermes’, the procession conceptualised by Glasgow-born Ross Birrell will travel 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) to Kessel, following the same Balkans route taken by refugees and migrants who last year poured into Europe to escape war and poverty.

Highlights of the exhibition, which runs to July, include the ‘Parthenon of Books’ by Argentine artist Marta Minujin -- a replica of the Classical Greek temple built with some 100,000 copies of banned books.

A visitor takes photo of the art work "The Greek way", an installation by Piotr Uklanski and McDermott & McGough, based on film stills of Leni Riefenstahl. (Reuters)

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