Documenta 14

‘I Was a Stranger and You Took Me In’: City of Kassel Will Buy Olu Oguibe’s Documenta Monument

The work in Kassel in June of 2017.

ANDREW RUSSETH/ARTNEWS

At last summer’s Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, one of the most visible pieces was a roughly 50-foot-tall obelisk in the city’s expansive Königsplatz by the Nigerian-born, United States-based artist Olu Oguibe. The work is titled Das Fremdlinge und Flüchtlinge Monument (Monument for strangers and refugees), and each of its four sides includes an excerpt from the Book of Matthew—“I was a stranger and you took me in”—in different languages: Turkish, Arabic, German, and English.

The piece also proved to be one of the exhibition’s most controversial and divisive, with a far-right member of Kassel’s city council calling the work “disfiguring” but the city itself giving Oguibe its Arnold Bode Prize, which goes to one artist in each Documenta, saying that the piece is “an affirmation of the timeless, universal principles of attention and care towards all those affected by flight and persecution.”

Now Kassel’s council has voted to acquire the work, according to a report in Deutsche Welle, though the purchase is not a done deal. Oguibe had originally wanted the work to remain on view in the Königsplatz, but the city denied that request, saying it wanted to keep the location open as a possible future Documenta exhibition site. The council has set the end of the month as the deadline for reaching a compromise on the location.

The current acquisition price for the work is €126,000 (or about $146,000), which has been raised through a fundraising campaign launched in January. The figure is well below the €600,000 ($695,200) that Oguibe had originally asked. (He had originally agreed to that discounted number on the condition that the work would be situated in the Königsplatz.)

If a suitable location cannot be found, the plan is for the work to be dismantled—but one modest proposal for an alternative would be to ship it to Washington, D.C., and set it outside the Department of Justice.

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