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Documenta 14, this year’s much-anticipated art exhibition, kicks off in Athens with artworks from over 160 international artists spread across 40 venues.

Since its founding in 1955 by artist and professor Arnold Bode, Documenta has been hosted every five years in the small German city of Kassel. This year, it takes place in two cities simultaneously. Titled Learning from Athens, Documenta 14 runs in the Greek capital until July 16 and will open in Kassel in June with a different, complementary program.

The idea for this new approach came from Adam Szymczyk, Documenta 14’s artistic director, who wanted the art exhibition to address the tension and complexity of the current socioeconomic climate in Europe and beyond. “It’s not an exhibition to admire, but an exhibition to make things look differently after you see it,” Szymczyk said in an interview. “We hope people are energized, moved or puzzled by the contents.” Here are the works we’re anticipating most at Documenta 14 in Athens:

Payment of Greek Debt to Germany with Olives and Art by Marta Minujin (2017)

At the entrance of the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), the main venue of Documenta 14 in Athens, visitors are welcomed by a large shallow box filled with olives by Argentinian artist Marta Minujin. The installation, which was accompanied by a performance on the opening day, offers viewers an explicit taste of how politics takes center stage at Documenta and acknowledges the fraught relations between the two host countries at the moment.

Shamiyaana–Food for Thought: Thought for Change by Rasheed Araeen (2017)

Born in Karachi, Pakistan and based in London, Rasheed Araeen is best known as a pioneer of minimalist sculpture in Britain and for founding The Third Text, an art journal that challenged the dominant Western-centric views and boundaries in visual arts. For Documenta 14, in central Athens’ Kotzia Square, the artist set up colorful canopies inspired by traditional Pakistani wedding tents—known as shamiana—where meals are served twice a day, for free. The piece invites strangers of all walks of life to come together, enjoy a meal and engage in an exchange.

Experimental Education Protocol, Delphi by Angelo Plessas (2017)

In the Athens School of Fine Arts, you’ll find a multimedia installation by Greek artist Angelo Plessas that explores a different kind of learning than we’re used to—an educational model incorporating fragments of information, open process and a community of “wandering learners.” As part of a continuing series that focuses on a new subject and takes place in a different location each time, this edition puts a spotlight on Maria Zamanou-Mickelson, one of Plessas’ neighbors in Athens who revealed to him that she was a spy during WWII. “The most hopeful minds for our world are the ones that are absolutely free from any political or religious ideals—there is no future in rigid idealism!” writes Plessas in a text for the installation.

Music Room (Athens) by Nevin Aladağ (2017)

At the Athens Conservatoire, Turkish-German artist Nevin Aladağ fills a room with found furniture and housewares that have been elegantly transformed into musical instruments—an armchair that can be plucked like a guitar, a table that becomes a symphony of bells. Music Room (Athens) (2017) is one of the many pieces in the Documenta 14 program that delves into the relationship between voice, performance, score and sound. Improvised performances with the instruments are held once a day.

Glimpse by Artur Žmijewski (2016 – 2017)

Greece has become an unexpected makeshift shelter for many refugees journeying into Europe, and a number of  artists at Documenta 14 are striving to understand the nuances of what the term “refugee” means. For Glimpse (2016-2017), Polish artist and filmmaker Artur Žmijewski documents the dire realities of refugees in Europe—particularly in places like Calais, France—in a 20-minute black-and-white silent film shown at the Athens School of Fine Arts. Much of the artist’s work tackles sensitive topics in a way that aims to galvanize a deep reaction that continues to pulse long after the initial response.

Documenta 14 runs in Athens from April 8 to July 16; in Kassel from June 10 to September 17.

  • Words:
    Charmaine Li
  • Photography:
    Mathias Voelzke
  • Words:
    Charmaine Li
  • Photography:
    Mathias Voelzke
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