Documenta 14 ended its 100-day run in Kassel, Germany, on Sunday, and today the event’s organizers released visitor totals that show an overall increase in attendance over the 2012 edition, Documenta 13. In total, 891,500 people visited the Kassel wing of this year’s exhibition. The accompanying section in Athens, Greece, which also ran for 100 days, attracted 339,000 visits.
By comparison, Documenta 13, in 2012, reported 905,000 visitors in Kassel, a tiny bit more than this year, as well as 25,000 visits to a satellite location in Kabul, Afghanistan. But the combination of the 2017 numbers in Athens and Kassel amounts to a clear increase in the audience for the vaunted quinquennial, and its organizers calculated that “well over one million visitors saw the exhibition in both cities.”
A spokesperson for Documenta explained that visitors were counted in Kassel because access to most of its venues was based on a single ticket; for Athens, total visits were counted instead because there was no single ticket, with many venues free of charge and some open only for specific events.
Attendance numbers have been a source of discussion for the curatorial team behind Documenta 14, who said in an open letter last week, “The exhibition venues have reached the limits of their capacity. Any demands for further growth spring from a dream of Documenta to be yet another cog in the tourist and cultural industry—a generic yet profitable spectacle.”
This being a Documenta 14 news release, it also also came with a helping of politics, noting at one point that its Public Programs section, “The Parliament of Bodies,” “emerged from the experience of the so-called long summer of migration in Europe, which revealed the simultaneous failure not only of modern representative democratic institutions but also of ethical practices of hospitality. The Parliament was in ruins. The real Parliament was on the streets, constituted by unrepresented and undocumented bodies resisting austerity measures and xenophobic policies.”
Emphasizing the ways in which Documenta tried to reach audiences in new ways, the announcement also noted that the exhibition’s radio series, “Every Time a Ear di Soun,” had 700,000 listeners online—and many more if one were to count those listing via radio waves in Cameroon, Indonesia, the United States, and other countries where it was broadcasted. In addition, 119,000 people took a tour of part of the show with a member of the “Documenta 14 Chorus.”
And then there is this, something to meditate on during the nearly five-year wait for Documenta 15: “Documenta 14 is not owned by anyone in particular. It is shared among its visitors and artists, readers and writers, as well as all those whose work made it happen.”
September 20: This post has been corrected to note that visits to the Kabul satellite section of Documenta 13 were not counted in the total visitor numbers released for that 2012 exhibition. As a result, the post’s headline and its comparisons to this year’s numbers have also been corrected.