Mela Dávila-Freire “documenta and the Art Market (1955 – 1968)”

Mela Dávila-Freire

documenta and the Art Market (1955 – 1968)

The first documenta (1955) took place in a post-war scenario devastated by National Socialism and World War II, in which profound social changes were underway. Seven decades later, documenta as an art exhibition has become a major global art event, formally considered “independent” of the art market. However, this was not always the case: In the early days of documenta, the need for funding, the desire for democratization, and the desire to include new genres of art clashed with private, lucrative interests. These needs led to the establishment of the “documenta Foundation,” an association that would market artists’ editions and multiples. Although the Foundation’s activities generated considerable income, they soon led to conflicts of interest that eventually caused the abandonment of this initiative.

This research and book project examines the history of the early documentas (1955-1968) from an interdisciplinary perspective: the interface between commercial and artistic interests. The aim is to trace documenta’s activity as a publisher of artists’ editions and multiples in its early years. This period coincided with the historical moment when the genre of the artist’s book was taken up by the avant-gardes and incorporated into the artistic practice of many artists on both sides of the Atlantic. The documenta publishing initiative responded to this new development in art, but also established a complex relationship with the emerging art market in postwar Germany, which is contoured in more detail for the first time in this research project. Personalities such as Arnold Bode, who is historically celebrated as the “founding father” of the documenta, play a role in this development. The protagonists, however, are mainly figures such as the gallerist Hein(rich) Stünke, co-founder of Art Cologne, or the porcelain manufacturer and patron of the arts Philip Rosenthal, as well as professionals from the art world whose relationship to documenta is less explored, such as the gallerist Rudolf Zwirner or the art collector and founder of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek Knud Jensen, who was an ardent admirer of the Kassel exhibition.