Home > Life and Art
Tuesday, March 21, 2017, 09:35

In tune with the times

By Deng Zhangyu

A German fair comes to China in the hope of drawing young art lovers. Deng Zhangyu reports.

In tune with the times
The retrospective exhibition of Documenta in Beijing retraces the evolution of the art fair in Germany. (Photo p rovided to China Daily)

Documenta, a high-profile contemporary art fair held every five years in the German city of Kassel, is now in China.

It presents the biggest retrospective of its shows in a country where the youth are increasingly taking to art appreciation.

It runs through the month.

This year, it is also one of the key activities to mark 45 years of diplomatic relations between China and Germany.

The ongoing show at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing displays more than 200 artworks that tell the story of Documenta's evolution in the past six decades.

The fair is considered as important as the Venice Biennial in Italy and the Sao Paulo Art Biennial in Brazil.

The retrospective, The Myth of Documenta - Arnold Bode and His Heirs , comes in six parts: its founder Arnold Bode's world; reconstruction (the period covering Documenta's first to third editions); transformation (Documenta 4 to 6); anything goes (Documenta 7 to 9); global discourse (Documenta 10 to 13); and lab arts educate (the fair's public education on art).

Klaus Siebenhaar, aGerman co-curator of the Beijing retrospective, said at the opening that Documenta is like a textbook on the changes that have taken place in the art world in modern times.

In tune with the times
The retrospective exhibition of Documenta in Beijing retraces the evolution of the art fair in Germany. (Photo p rovided to China Daily)

Yu Ding, a Chinese co-curator, said at the same event: "Documenta is not limited to Germany. As China opens up more to the world,we need to know what happened and understand better the changes that have happened. The retrospective offers us a good chance in this direction."

The fair, founded in 1955 by Bode - a German artist and curator - is held over 100 days and invites artists from around the world to produce works for the event as well as present older pieces.

The name, Documenta, was coined by its founder as a documentation of modern art for young Germans who were not able to access such art after World War II.

Documenta long focused only on artists from Europe. It grew into an international fair by including artists from all continents in the 1990s.

In 1997, Chinese artists Feng Mengbo and Wang Jianwei took part in Documenta with their video works. From then on,Chinese art has been a part - though still very small - of the fair.

The number of Chinese artists attending the event is relatively small compared with other international art fairs. There are fewer visitors to the Kassel fair from Asia as well.

Compared with the Venice Biennial that attracts many artists and visitors from China, Documenta is less-known to the Chinese public and media, says Qian Mengni, a longtime art reporter from a Shanghai-based newspaper. The retrospective of the 62-year history of Documenta has been specially designed for the Chinese audience, says Siebenhaar.

In tune with the times
Joseph Beuys (left) and other artists attend the previous Documenta. (Photo provided to China Daily )

In 2005, the fair held a small retrospective tour of the world to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Apart from the Beijing retrospective, Documenta will set up a Chinese website and a research center for the fair at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, a top art college in China.

Siebenhaar says Documenta has always made an effort to attract young people but is now facing a situation where many of the visitors in Kassel are older than 50.

According to visitor data collected by Documenta since the 1970s, visitors age 50 and above formed the majority for the first time at the fair's 12th edition in 2012.

Most of that audience grew up along with the art fair, Siebenhaar says.

But compared with art lovers in Europe, those from Asia are much younger and the growth opportunity for Documenta lies in increasing its followers in Asia, he says.

Contact the writer at

If you go

9:30 am-5:30 pm, through March 31. Central Academy of Fine Arts, 8 Huajiadi South Street, Chaoyang district, Beijing. 010-6477-1575 .

Latest News