And we are off to the races.
Early this afternoon in Kassel, Germany, at the Documenta Halle exhibition venue, a group of officials—including the city’s lord mayor, Christian Geselle, and the Hessian minister of state for science and art, Angela Dorn—revealed that the Indonesian artist collective Ruangrupa has been selected as artistic director of the 15th edition of Documenta, the closely watched and generally sprawling exhibition that every five years fills Kassel (and sometimes other cities) with boatloads of art, films, music, and public programs.
Documenta 15 is scheduled to run in 2022 from June 18 through September 25, for a total of 100 days, in keeping with its nickname of “The Museum of 100 Days.”
This marks the first time that an artist collective has been tapped to curate Documenta, and the first time that its curatorial leadership has come from Asia. Ruangrupa was founded in 2000 in Jakarta, Indonesia, and has been involved with a wide array of curatorial activities in its home country and abroad since then. Ten men and women from the group will form the core team for organizing the show.
The collective has participated in the Gwangju Biennale (in 2002 and 2018), the Istanbul Biennale (2005), and the Singapore Biennale (2016). It also organized the 2016 edition of the storied Sonsbeek public-art exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Two of its members, Farid Rakun and Ade Darmawan, were on hand for the announcement today.
“We want to create a globally oriented, cooperative, interdisciplinary art and culture platform that will have an impact beyond the 100 days of Documenta 15,” Rakun and Darmawan said in a statement. “Our curatorial approach aims at a different community-oriented model of resource usage—economical, but also taking ideas, knowledge, programs and innovations into account. If Documenta was launched in 1955 to heal war wounds, why shouldn’t we focus Documenta 15 on today’s injuries, especially ones rooted in colonialism, capitalism, or patriarchal structures, and contrast them with partnership-based models that enable people to have a different view of the world.”
Philippe Pirotte, the director of the Städelschule and Portikus in Frankfurt, who was a member of the selection committee, said in a statement, “We have appointed Ruangrupa because they have demonstrated the ability to appeal to various communities, including groups that go beyond pure art audiences, and to promote local commitment and participation. Their curatorial approach is based on an international network of local community-based art organizations.”
The Documenta job is one of the most coveted and prestigious in the international curatorial game—the kind of position that one hopefully dines out on for the rest of a long and illustrious career. Ruangrupa was selected from a group of 10 finalists.
Until today, every artistic director of Documenta but Okwui Enwezor, the Nigerian-born curator who organized number 11, had hailed from Europe or the United States.
Only 13 individuals have previously held the top curatorial position at Documenta, and just three of them have been women: Catherine David (for the quinquennial’s 10th edition), Ruth Noack (who co-organized the 12th), and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (the 13th). (One asterisk: a 24-member council picked artists for number 4, though in Documenta’s own telling, the decisive figures were Jean Leering and Arnold Bode, the exhibition’s cofounder.)
The majordomo of the last Documenta, number 14, was Adam Szymczyk, who made the unprecedented decision to expand the show dramatically in scale, mounting shows throughout Athens. After its close, his edition was embroiled in controversy, with claims that the organization ran up a deficit of €7.6 million (about $8.62 million at today’s exchange rate), a shortfall that was eventually covered by municipal and state governments in Germany. Officials have since said that Szymczyk and Documenta’s then-CEO, Annette Kulenkampff, committed no criminal wrongdoing. Kulenkampff stepped down in November 2017, and Sabine Schormann was hired as its new CEO last April.
Ruangrupa was picked by a committee of eight peers that can only be described as formidable. They are: Ute Meta Bauer, the founder and director of Singapore’s Centre for Contemporary Art; Charles Esche, the director of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in the Netherlands; artist Amar Kanwar, who appeared in Documenta 13 and 14; Frances Morris, the director of Tate Modern; Gabi Ngcobo, who curated the 2018 Berlin Biennale; Elvira Dyangani Ose, the director of the Showroom in London; Jochen Volz, who directs the Pinacoteca do Estado in São Paulo; and Pirotte.
As of yet, Documenta 15 does not yet have a unique stylization for its name—à la dOCUMENTA (13) or documenta X—but we’ll keep you updated.