Over 40 years later, Documenta 5, the exhibition that was criticized in 1972 as being “bizarre…vulgar…sadistic” by art critic and essayist Hilton Kramer and “monstrous… overtly deranged” by art historian and art critic Barbara Rose, resonates today as one of the most important exhibitions in history. Both hailed and derided by artists and critics, the exhibition was the largest, most expensive and most diverse of any exhibition anywhere, and foreshadowed all large-scale, collaboratively curated, comprehensive mega-shows to come.
Harald Szeemann: Documenta 5 explores the many facets of this particularly controversial Documenta exhibition, which jumped outside the contemporary art sphere into an expanded realm of activity, a legendary extravaganza that invited both visceral criticism and praise. Documenta, a major international contemporary art presentation that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany, is currently in its 13th iteration. This specific 1972 Documenta, chiefly curated by the influential Swiss curator, Harald Szeemann, was a pioneering, radically different presentation that was conceived as a 100-day event, with performances and happenings, outsider art, even non-art, as well as repeated Joseph Beuys lectures, and an installation of Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum, among many other atypical inclusions. The show widely promoted awareness of a contract known as The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, which protects artists’ ongoing intellectual and financial rights with regard to their production.
This exhibition, curated by David Platzker, includes the exhibition catalogue, ephemera, artists’ publications and editions produced in conjunction with the exhibition, as well as published reviews and critical responses. The assembled materials provide a rich jumping off point for art history students, artists, and general audiences to plunge into the international contemporary art scene of 1972, to see what this particularly fertile cultural moment produced. Venues might like to host an evening of local artists’ talks about contracts and rights, building from discussion of Seth Siegelaub’s The Artists Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, or could work with local artists and groups to generate their own 100-day series of events.
Harald Szeemann: Documenta 5 is an exhibition curated by David Platzker and circulated by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. The exhibition is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the ICI Board of Trustees, and ICI Benefactors Barbara and John Robinson.