Famed German art show on brink of bankruptcy after running up millions in debts

International art exhibition documenta in Kassel is on the brink of insolvency just days before it comes to a close on Sunday.

Famed German art show on brink of bankruptcy after running up millions in debts
Visitors at Documenta in front of a showpiece called "The Parthenon of Books." Photo: DPA.

Documenta has squandered a budget of €37 million with a “dramatic” deficit of about €7 million, local newspaper Hessische Niedersächsische Allgemeine (HNA) reported on Tuesday

Spokesman for the city of Kassel, Claas Michaelis, has not confirmed how much the deficit amounts to, stating it was “under investigation.”

Shareholders of the exhibition, including the central German state of Hesse and the city of Kassel, plan to provide necessary financial support and ensure that employees’ salaries are paid by dishing out €7 million over the next five years. Documenta has been held every five years since 1972.

Mayor of Kassel, Christian Geselle, who is also chairman of documenta’s supervisory board, stated in a press release he was informed at the end of August about “impending financial bottlenecks,” though did not mention reasons why.

For the first time in documenta’s history, this year’s edition featured a secondary venue in Athens, Greece. Artwork was showcased in both Athens and Kassel with no change in budget. According to the HNA, the Greek show devoured much more money than anticipated.

The exhibition’s managers have already begun putting together a report and auditors have started analyzing the books, according to Michaelis. Both reports will be available next week, after which the public will be informed.

At the exhibition’s half-way point in July, documenta officials had drawn a positive balance. By the end of July, 445,000 visitors had been counted – 17 percent more than at the exhibition’s half-way point at the previous documenta in 2012.

Managing director Annette Kulenkampff has not commented on the deficit. Before the exhibition began, she had expressed concerns that the show’s budget was too low.

“An increase in public funding will become necessary in the future,” she said in a March interview with the German Press Agency (DPA).

Aware of the “outstanding significance of documenta for the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse,” we want to continue as an exhibition of world-class contemporary art in Kassel, stated mayor Geselle.

Documenta is one of the world's largest contemporary art shows and attracts visitors from all over the world. The 2017 edition featured artwork from over 160 artists.

SEE ALSO: 'Parthenon' made of books built at site of Nazi book burning


Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.


In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.