documenta 14: a user guide

Ahead of the public opening of documenta 14 this Saturday, a look at what we already know from ‘Learning from Athens’

BY Paul Teasdale in Critic's Guides | 06 APR 17

The wait will soon be over. For press and accredited professionals, it already is. On Saturday 8 April, some 47 venues across Athens and beyond will open their doors to the public for Adam Szymczyk’s documenta 14, titled ‘Learning from Athens’. Though not the first Documenta to expand its programme outside of Kassel – Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11 held conferences across four continents before the Kassel exhibition in 2002, and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of the 13th edition in 2012, used Kabul, Cairo and Banff as satellite venues – this edition is certainly the first to present a major part of the programme away from its base in the middle of Germany. It will run in Athens from the 8 April to 16 July and in Kassel from 10 June to 17 September.

Curator of documenta 14, Adam Szymczyk. Photograph: © Gina Folly

In contrast to the build up to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012, marked by rambling curatorial Double Dutch and bizarre talk of dogs, Szymczyk has remained tight-lipped on what and whom to expect in his iteration. (The artist list was finally published today here.) However, for those who have looked closely there have been clues. His announcement in 2013 that it would be held in Athens, with the curatorial team setting up base in the city, was met with surprise, some suspicion and no little curiosity, not least from Athenians. Some saw the decision by a German artistic institution to locate itself in a country, still at the mercy of strict austerity measures enforced in no small part by Germany, as provocative; others called it cultural exoticization. 

Yet the decision to ‘Learn from Athens’ and the ‘Global South’ forms the basis and focus for this edition. Parts of the programme have already been underway for some time. Under the editorship of frieze contributing editor and writer Quinn Latimer, Documenta has taken temporary control of the magazine South for four editions (the fourth still to be published).Szymczyk has explained the magazine as ‘a publishing platform to lay out his curatorial interests and research’ and, in an interview with Artforum’s Michelle Kuo, emphasized that he saw text as equal in status to physical works in the show. Starting in September, Spanish philosopher Paul B. Preciado has programmed the Public Progamme series of performances, talks and conferences in Athens under the title The Parliament of Bodies (read our piece on the opening part of the programme here). Over the past months artists participating in d14 have presented their work to students at the Athens School of Fine Art; the film programme Keimena, curated by Hila Peleg and Vassily Bourikas, has been broadcast on Greek public TV station ERT2, airing Mondays at midnight since December 19, 2016. It will run till September 18, 2017. A radio programme titled Every Time A Ear Di Soun, curated by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, will be broadcast on nine radio stations in Greece, Cameroon, Colombia, Lebanon, Brazil, Indonesia, the US and Germany for the duration of d14.

One of the four main venues for documenta 14 Athens, EMST - the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Photograph: Dimitris Parthimos

Yet in a press conference today, along with the accompanying publications Documenta 14: Daybook and The Documenta 14 Reader, Szymczyk and his team of curators gave the first real glimpse of what to expect from this edition. Held at the Megaron concert hall in Athens, the conference began with the assembled artists and curatorial team performing a rendition of avant-garde Greek composer Jani Christou’s 1968 work Epicycle. Exploring ideas of improvisation, participation and repetition the work embodies notions key to the composer’s concept of the ‘continuum’, an idea the composer explained as: ‘the work may last for any stretch of time. Anyone wishing to participate in the continuum is welcome.’ Szymczyk spoke of how these thoughts were key to the strategy and method of how he has programmed this edition, one that is ‘against interpretation, which should be treated with suspicion and suspended.’ He said that the curatorial team has also been inspired by composer Cornelius Cardew and his thought that taking ‘a position of un-learning is the key to learning.’ I often get the question ‘what did you learn from Athens? My answer is to abandon preconceptions and rather be in a state of not knowing,’ he explained. 

The Athens Conservatoire (Odeion), one of the four main venues for documenta 14 Athens. Photograph: © Dimitris Parthimos

Szymczyk did have some advice on how to see the exhbition, however: ‘try to see it as a geography, by areas. Don't go to the four main venues and make your judgement on the show.’ Curator Monika Szewczyk posed the question ‘how does the press, the critic, the audience join ‘the continuum’? The tourist tends to consume rather than bring energy.’ Pierre Bal Blanc spoke of how the team have been inspired by The Peripatetic school of philosophy: ‘a way of learning that moves from the rhetorical to the discursive, from the performative to gesture.’ Speaking about the choice of venues curator Katerina Tselou talked about the ‘inspiration of an historical flashback’ adding that venues were chosen to ‘highlight intellectual personalities important in forming a Greek narrative.’

For a show that over the years has ballooned into epic proportions, it is doubtful how many will see both Athens and Kassel legs of this Documenta and manage to get to all of its many venues. In a similar spirit of incompleteness, and with an nod to peripetetic learning, here’s a guide to some background and programme information, as well as a link to the full artist list.

Check back to for daily posts on the d14, courtesy of frieze magazine editors.

Benaki Museum - Pireos Street Annexe, one of the four main venues for documenta 14 Athens. Photograph: © Dimitris Parthimos


The Athens exhibition will tke place across four main venues: The Athens Conservatoire, The Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA), the newly opened EMST - National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens and the Benaki Museum - Pireos Street 138 Annex. Forty-three satellite spaces around Athens and it’s nearby port of Piraeus will also host work and performances. 

The main exhibition venues will be open from Tuesday —Sunday, 11am – 9pm, Thursdays 11am – 11 pm. Opening hours  and dates during Easter as well as ticket information can be found on the d14 website here.


The inaugural week’s programme can be found on the documenta 14 website here.
The schedule of performances over the preview days can be found here

The curatorial team of documenta 14, taken at Parko Eleftherias, Athens. Photograph: © Stathis Mamalakis

Curatorial Team

Director Adam Szymczyk is the co-founder of the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw, where he worked as curator from 1997 to 2003 before becoming Director of the Kunsthalle Basel, where he organized over 100 exhibitions until the end of 2014. With Elena Filopovic, in 2008 he curated the 5th Berlin Biennale ‘When things cast no shadow.’ His curatorial team includes: Pierre Bal-Blanc, Marina Fokidis, Hendrik Folkerts, Natasha Ginwala, Candice Hopkins, Salvatore Lacagnina, Quinn Latimer, Andrea Linnenkohl, Hila Peleg, Paul B. Preciado, Dieter Roestraete, Erzen Shkololli, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Elena Sorokina, Monika Szewczyk, Paolo Thorsen-Nagel and Katerina Tselou.


The full list of the 160 participating artists can be found here.

Main image: Andreas Angelidakis, DEMOS, 2016, dimensions variable, installation view, Athens Municipality Arts Center Parko Eleftherias. Courtesy: documenta 14; photograph: Stathis Mamalakis

Paul Teasdale is editor of He is based in London.