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‘documenta 14’ Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk Speaks Oct. 11

Szymczyk and Christov-Bakargiev to discuss upcoming internationally acclaimed exhibition

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Every five years, the town of Kassel, Germany, and the global art world experience “documenta,” one of the most debated and best frequented contemporary art exhibitions in the world. Drawing almost one million visitors over a 100-day period, the “museum of 100 days” is known for challenging art and its public reception.

This month, Chicagoans can get a sneak peek behind-the-scenes of the next “documenta,” planned for 2017, during a special event that marks the first time “documenta 14” artistic director Adam Szymczyk will speak about “documenta” in the U.S.

The Saturday, Oct. 11 event is co-sponsored by Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory and Practice and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. Three art theory and practice faculty members, including Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle and Michael Rakowitz, have been involved in “documenta.”

Free and open to the public, “Curators in Conversation: Notes towards ‘documenta’ in Kassel in 2017” will take place at 2 p.m. in McCormick Auditorium at Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, on the University’s Evanston campus. Newly appointed artistic director Adam Szymczyk will discuss the conceptual framework of “documenta 14” with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artistic director of “dOCUMENTA (13)” and Northwestern visiting professor. Szymczyk, a Polish-born art critic and curator who currently serves as director of Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, has taken the reins for 2017. On Oct. 11 at Northwestern University, Szymczyk will offer the audience a glimpse into his process and vision for “documenta 14.”

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev comments:

“To be the artistic director of ‘documenta’ is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I will never forget the challenges that I was faced with and the incredible artworks that were created by so many great artists, when organizing the 13th edition in 2012. Visited by 860,000 people in 100 days, it was held not only in the ‘documenta’ city -- Kassel, Germany -- but also in Banff, Cairo-Alexandria and Kabul, Afghanistan. ‘documenta’ is a periodic international exhibition of contemporary art that has taken place in Kassel, Germany, every five years since 1955, and that has been a defining moment for art and its relations with society worldwide.”

“‘documenta 14’ will take place in 2017, and there are high expectations for the project and vision of the new artistic director, Adam Szymczyk,” added Christov-Bakargiev. “This visit to Chicago constitutes his first journey to America as artistic director of ‘documenta’ and will be a unique opportunity to gain insight into his frame of mind and thoughts for the upcoming exhibition.”

Since 1972, each “documenta” features a new artistic director who is charged with reinventing the exhibition. In this way, the event puts a finger on the pulse of current contemporary art trends and creates a platform for experimentation and innovation.

Christov-Bakargiev, who is currently the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor at Northwestern University, will lend her perspective and experience in curating this significant international exhibition. Her stewardship of “documenta” in 2012 focused on enlisting culture for reconstruction, healing and global dialogue.


“documenta” is one of the world’s oldest international art exhibitions, founded by Kassel-based painter and professor Arnold Bode in 1955. He sought to bring Germany back into conversation with the rest of the world following World War II, and also to connect Germans with the contemporary art scene of the time, in part to present works that had been deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis.

This first “documenta” was a success, drawing an audience of 130,000. Bode, convinced he had hit a gem, planned a second exhibition for 1959.

While the focus of each “documenta” has shifted throughout the years, the exhibition has remained constant in its ability to spark conversation and even controversy in the art world. With new artistic directors curating each exhibition, each “documenta” undergoes shifts in form and content.

For example in 1972, “documenta 5” surprised critics and fans by integrating performance and outsider art, Joseph Beuys lectures and an installation of Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum. Twenty years later in 1992, artistic director Jan Hoet yet again broke with tradition by hosting “a documenta of locations,” which focused on providing subjective experiences rather than highlighting a central theme.

More recently, Okqui Enwezor, the first black and non-European director of “documenta 11,” designed an ambitious multi-cultural experience called Platform 5, which split the exhibition into five “platforms.” Each platform was located in a different city and brought together high-profile academics to discuss issues of globalization, politics, culture and more.


Adam Szymczyk (born 1970 in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland) is artistic director of “documenta 14” until the end of this year, and director at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland.

Szymczyk was a co-founder of the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw, where he worked as curator from 1997 till 2003, when he assumed his new post in Basel. At Kunsthalle Basel, he organized exhibitions including “Piotr Uklanski: Earth, Wind and Fire” (2004); “Tomma Abts” (2005); “Gustav Metzger: In Memoriam” and “Lee Lozano: Win First Don't Last Win Last Don't Care” (both 2006); “Micol Assaël: Chizhevsky Lessons” (2007); “Danh Vo: Where the Lions Are” (2009); “Moyra Davey: Speaker Receiver” (2010); “Sung Hwan Kim: Line Wall” (2011); “Paul Sietsema” and “Adriana Lara: S.S.O.R.” (both in 2012), as well as group shows, including “Strange Comfort (Afforded by the Profession)” (with Salvatore Lacagnina, 2010), “How to Work” and ”How to Work (More for) Less” (both in 2011).

In 2008, Szymczyk co-curated with Elena Filipovic the 5th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art under the title “When Things Cast No Shadow” and in 2012, he curated “Olinka, or Where Movement Is Created” at Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. He is a Member of the Board of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. In 2011, he was recipient of the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement at the Menil Foundation in Houston.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev currently serves as Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University.

She is also the curator of “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms - The 14th Istanbul Biennial” (2015) and a guest scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles for the 2014-15 academic year. Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds in 2014, she was previously Menschel Visiting Professor in Art at The Cooper Union, New York and Pernod Ricard Visiting Professor at Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt.

Christov-Bakargiev was artistic director of “dOCUMENTA (13)” from 2009–2012. The exhibition took place in Kassel, Germany (June 9 – Sept. 16, 2012), in Kabul, Afghanistan and included projects in Alexandria/Cairo, Egypt and Banff, Canada. Previously, she was artistic director of the 16th Biennale of Sydney (2008) and chief curator at Castello di Rivoli Museum for Contemporary Art, Turin (2002–08, interim director, 2009). She was also senior curator at P.S.1, New York (1999–2001). Her books include “William Kentridge” (1998), “Arte Povera” (1999), and for “dOCUMENTA (13)” the “100 Notes – 100 Thoughts” series, as well as “The Logbook” and “The Book of Books.”


The Department of Art Theory and Practice (AT&P) explores both the making of contemporary art and the ideas and theories that drive it. The department strives to foster intellectual independence, intense critical dialogue and cutting-edge practices that push the boundaries of aesthetic and cultural experience. Toward this end, AT&P has assembled a faculty consisting of widely exhibited and acclaimed artists. Their practices represent diverse artistic interests, traditions and media, giving students access to a variety of viewpoints.


The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is the Northwestern University’s art museum. It serves the academic and cultural needs of the University and community with thought-provoking exhibitions, a rich and diverse permanent collection, and dynamic educational and cultural programming.

The Block currently has two exhibitions open in its galleries for fall: “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey,” which runs through Dec. 7, and “Ecological Looking: Sustainability and the End(s) of the Earth,” which runs through Nov. 30. Admission is free and open to all.


A long-term construction project on Northwestern’s south campus has limited access to the Block Museum and Arts Circle Drive. Parking is always free after 4 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends in the lot directly south of the museum. For directions and additional parking information, visit

Topics: Visual Arts
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