Documenta 14

The Many and Meaningful Libraries of Documenta 14

Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books, 2017, built with banned books, steel, and plastic on the Friedrichsplatz.


In lieu of a catalogue, Documenta 14 has what it is calling a “reader,” complete with essays, poems, and historical documents, and the curators took over three issues of the Greek magazine South as a State of Mind; the written word has special importance for this edition of the festival.

So does the notion of the book as an object collected in a library. And so do libraries, as architecture and as entities that are constantly evolving. The most visible manifestation of this is Marta Minujín’s monumental The Parthenon of Books smack in the center of Friedrichsplatz. Wrapped in plastic and lining its giant columns are banned books from the world over, from To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (recently banned in a U.S. school district) to, somewhat improbably, Twilight and the series of related volumes that followed. Visitors are welcome to submit a banned book to the work. The Parthenon of Books is, in effect, a library of banned books.

Maria Eichhorn’s Rose Valland Institute (2017).


Three other libraries figure in Documenta. There is a portion of the library of the late Swiss-born sociology professors Annemarie and Lucius Burckhardt, located in the Peppermint space just off Friedrichsplatz. A stone’s throw from the The Parthenon of Books, visitors are welcome to take a seat on the Burckhardts’ comfy sofa and peruse their collection of books on urban planning and education. Many are in German; a choice one in English is Everett Reimer’s School Is Dead: Alternatives in Education, which bears the subtitle An Indictment of the System and a Strategy of Revolution.

If you consult a Documenta guard in the building known as the Torwache, you can also page through the books in two bookcases there, collectively called Library. Created by artists and choreographers Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet, whose company is Les Gens d’Uterpan, these cases hold an ever-expanding library of specialist books on dance and performance that were published since 2005 and do not mention Vigier and Apertet’s work. Researchers began the collection in France, where the artists are based, and add to it books found wherever the piece is displayed. The cases, designed by Dominique Mathieu, express the artists’ interest in the bookshelf’s use as an architectural object.

The most prominent instance of the bookcase as a architectural object is on the second floor of the Neue Galerie, where Maria Eichhorn’s artwork Rose Valland Institute, a towering set of shelves packed with volumes, is positioned in the center of the large gallery so that it confronts visitors as soon as they’ve come up the stairs. That this library looms over us, casting its long shadow, is directly related to its contents: books unlawfully acquired from Jewish collections during World War II that made their way into German libraries. It’s a welcome reminder in the age of the Kindle that books have stories beyond the ones we find in their pages.

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