Adam Szymczyk’s proposal to organize documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel interrogates the position of the institution by reversing the role of host that it has grown so accustomed to, instead shaping an exhibition in a context where it is a guest, and where its calling card is an invitation for a shared Learning from Athens. At the same time the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST), with the new series EMST in the World, found within the working title “Learning from Athens” the opportunity to learn from Kassel and create a path for its contact with the world. Thus, the two organizations agreed EMST to become the main venue of documenta 14 in Athens and the Museum to exhibit part of its collection to Fridericianum in Kassel.
The presentation of the artworks of documenta 14 is spread in the whole building of EMST, as well as in the whole city of Athens, in more than 40 different public institutions, squares, cinemas, university spaces and libraries, where most of 160 artists from all over the world will present their new works.
EMST will be the main venue of documenta 14 from April 8 to July 16 2017. documenta 14 will in turn host EMST’s collection at the Fridericianum in Kassel, presenting a curated selection of the museum’s valuable permanent collection of Greek and international contemporary art, from June 10 to September 17 2017.
The EMST building was designed in 1961 as a brewery by the visionary Greek modernist architect Takis Zenetos (1926–77) in collaboration with Margaritis Apostolidis (1922–2005)—a mighty four-story horizontal slab of concrete inserted into the city’s older fabric, with production lines visible from the street. The presentation of documenta 14 artists and artworks there is inspired by the sense of a libidinal economy, rethinking production, currencies, and flows as always social and always public.
Since it was founded in 2000, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST) has collected works by Greek and international artists from the 1960s to the present. During the past years, works of the growing collection of EMST were contextualized through exhibitions presented in numerous temporary spaces such as the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron), the Athens Conservatoire, where EMST was temporarily located, as well as in the public space, as an effort to make the Museum active and its collection public despite the challenges it faced. In the meantime, preparations were made for a move into the Museum’s permanent home in the former Fix Brewery on Syngrou Avenue.
The move, initially of its administrative offices, took place in 2015 and the future plan to fully open this quintessential public institution — making its building, its collection, and its exhibition program accessible to all who live in and come to Athens—was inaugurated with the program EMST in the World on October 31, 2016. EMST managed to forge collaborations to show its collection in dialogue with works from other international museums and art institutions. Thus, EMST invigorated the Fix building with a dynamic program, but also took this moment as a historic opportunity to pause and consider what it means to be a contemporary museum today.
documenta’s capacity to produce an exhibition at the forefront of contemporary art and theory is sustained by stable financial commitments from public funders such as the city of Kassel, the state of Hessen, and the German Federal Cultural Foundation as well as by sponsors. The history of this exhibition, however, reveals its ideological underpinnings as a West German institution, transformed after 1989 to encompass global art towards the present moment, in which it needs to carefully balance multiple aspects: its relationship to the international art market, its economic impact on the city of Kassel, and the importance of its accessibility to all publics versus the necessity to bolster the exhibition budget through income from ticket sales. It has become crucial for documenta to answer the question of what it means to be public today, on all levels—artistic, political, and financial.
The approach of Katerina Koskina and the curatorial team of EMST considers the collection vis-à-vis the long history of the Fridericianum, established in 1779 as the first public museum in mainland Europe, then becoming a library, and finally in its contemporary function as a Kunsthalle as well as, of course, the once ruinous birthplace of documenta in 1955. Moreover, the Fridericianum’s history as a house of parliament of the short-lived Kingdom of Westphalia (1807–13)—the first parliamentary representation in the history of Germany—serves as inspiration for the presentation of the EMST collection as it becomes subject of international debate. As such, the collection shares stories, challenges prevalent histories and their protagonists, and engages politics through its commitment to preserving artworks and documenting the processes of their making.The EMST building and the museum’s collection are made public, though not simultaneously and not in the same space, in keeping with the conditions of displacement that both EMST and documenta 14 currently work within.