For those who think they know everything there is to know about the history of Documenta, this edition has a couple footnotes to add. For instance, in the main venue in Kassel, the Fridericianum, there are photographs that Hans Haacke took when he worked for the second edition of the festival, in 1959. But the most charming bit of Documenta is in the venue known as Peppermint, a small space just off Friedrichsplatz. There, in an installation dedicated to a portion of the library of the iconoclastic Swiss professors Lucius and Annemarie Burckhardt (who, like Adam Szymczyk, were based in Basel and then in Kassel, where they passed away in 2003 and 2012, respectively) you will find Annemarie Burckhardt’s 1990 recreation of the Documenta IX catalogue as a pillow. Yes, a pillow, on which the catalogue’s stark, minimalist design and imposing typography have been lovingly stitched. The organizers of Documenta IX were not amused, and were even less amused when they discovered that Burckhardt had made kits for people to make their own Documenta IX pillow, not unlike those kits you can buy online these days to make things like knitted bunny rabbit tea cozies. Martin Schmitz, who became a kind of historian of the Burckhardts, once displayed Annemarie’s pillow in his Kassel gallery. When a local resident heard that Documenta was doing a project related to the Burckhardts, that resident brought in one of the kits, and it is on display in a vitrine in Peppermint, next to the completed pillow.
Annemarie Burckhardt meant her pillow to be a soft, comforting take on something hard. Just as comforting in the Peppermint space, in front of the bookshelves packed with hefty hardcovers on education and urban planning, is the small green couch the Burckhardts kept in their office. One side of it is marked “reserved,” by which the Burckhardts meant that it was reserved for anyone who happened by. As a photograph shows, the Burckhardts were both small people, and could easily fit on the couch next to a third person. The organizers of Documenta have been using Peppermint as a meeting place for various discussion groups since early 2016, and intend it to be a place for “unlearning,” or “aneducation.” A young attendant in the space translated that for me. “In here,” she said, “you can read, talk, have fun.” She paused before adding, “It’s very different from the rest of the show.”