Home Art/Culture Greenhouse effect at Documenta art expo in Germany

Greenhouse effect at Documenta art expo in Germany


Kassel (Germany) : When the Documenta 12 art exhibition opens in Germany June 16, some of the world's most admired art of the present day will be arrayed in a sprawling plastic greenhouse on a palace lawn in Kassel city.

Held every five years, Documenta has spotlighted the trendiest painters, sculptors, video and conceptual artists and photographers of the age since 1955. To be chosen to exhibit not only anoints an artist, but also sends the market value of their work soaring.

The list of more than 400 works selected this year is still a closely guarded secret, but the exhibition space for 140 of them, which from the outside is indistinguishable from a tomato-farming greenhouse, is causing controversy.

French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal have publicly grumbled at changes to their 100-by-200-metre building, which will be in use for only 100 days before being dismantled in September and sold.

Their design called for a plastic version of the Crystal Palace, an all-glass 1851 London building that introduced the world to transparent walls and roofs. Mass-produced tubes would resemble its cast-iron arches and polycarbonate sheeting its all-glass walls.

Tim Hupe, the architect directing the work, upset the French designers by adding gauze drapes containing reflective aluminium strips to the interior, amid fears that the unfiltered rays of the sun would cook the art.

Up to half a million art lovers from round the world, sweating in Germany's summer sun as they puzzle over the messages sent by the contemporary art, will also welcome the shade.

In its final form, the greenhouse bears little resemblance to a crystal palace, inside or out.

It has been erected on the Karlsaue, or Aue for short, a park in front of the Orangerie palace near the Fulda River. From the city heights of Kassel, a former ducal capital north of Frankfurt, the opaque white Aue Pavilion looks like an industrial farming operation.

In a demonstration of the greenhouse effect that is heating up the planet Earth's climate, the building has been fitted with huge ventilation pipes and pumps to extract excess solar heat.

Lacaton has said the drapery and air conditioning show a "lack of respect" for the architects. Roger Buergel, the Documenta head, retorts that architects must give way to the needs of the art and artists.

He remains coy about whether he has raised enough funds from corporate sponsors and fund-raising dinners in Berlin and Moscow to cover the greenhouse's 3-million-euro ($4 million) cost.

The other main exhibition spaces, the Museum Fridericianum and the Neue Galerie, have undergone makeovers that illustrate a growing trend in museum design to highlight interior decoration instead of suppressing it.

The new wave of museum designers dismiss the exhibition spaces of recent decades as neutral "white boxes" where the visitor is supposed to concentrate on the art, ignore the building and follow the arrows.

"We wanted to get away from that intestinal architecture, where you wend your way endlessly through to some back end," said Buergel, 44, his wind-cheater draped over his shoulders like a cloak, as he philosophised about Documenta for reporters on the site.

Bombed in the Second World War and constantly remodelled since then by a succession of Documenta directors, the 1779 museum is to be painted this time in rich hues as a form of colour coding to help visitors orient themselves.

Partitions have been ripped out and its windows will bring in daylight and offer visitors a view of a huge square to be planted with a sea of red poppies, themselves a work of art by Sanja Ivekovic of Croatia.

The other museum, the 1870s Neue Galerie opposite the home of the Brothers Grimm, is having its interior repainted chartreuse green, mauve and terracotta-salmon-pink and its windows curtained in the same intense modern colours.