The first documenta is nowadays known as an exhibition that should have rehabilitated art that was called ‘degenerate’ during National Socialism. Neither the founder of documenta Arnold Bode (1900-177) nor his co-founder Werner Haftmann (1912-1999) spoke officially about any rehabilitation of art and of “making something good again” in the German cultural world. Together with Haftmann, Alfred Hentzen (1903-1985, director of the Kestner-Museum, Hannover), Kurt Martin (1899-1975, director of the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe) and Hans Mettel (1903-1966, director of the Städelschule, Frankfurt) Bode created a brochure for the documenta that not only contained general information but also revealed reasons for organizing the exhibition. This three-folded brochure kept in a simple color scheme is the first of three information brochures of the documenta 1955 which was sent to museums, schools and galleries in Germany and abroad.


It was extremely important for Bode, who at the time taught as a professor at the Kunstakademie Kassel, that the younger generation got shown on which point the international art world was after 1945. Since the takeover of power by the National Socialism and the “purging” of the museum collections the youth was denied access to contemporary art. While art developed further in countries outside the reign of the National Socialists, it seemed that the cultural life in Germany almost came to a standstill. Bode wanted to tie in this situation with the documenta: attempting to document "the lines of development of fine art" at that time and to point out the position of art had reached to date, the documenta became a "documentation of what has been achieved".


The recipients should not only be informed about the forthcoming exhibition itself, but also about the building in which the documenta was staged: the Museum Fridericianum. Even ten years after the end of the Second World War there was still no use for the building which had completely burnt out during the war. Only by Bode’s initiative was the building provisionally restored by the Hessian state government. From the beginning Bode was fascinated by the ruins of the Fridericianum and succeeded in creating an exhibition within a very short space of time. The art world remains unimaginable without documenta.


All three brochures can be viewed in the reading room of the documenta archiv.


Lena Voss