In a letter from the Kleemann Galleries in New York, addressed to Arnold Bode (1900 – 1977), attention is drawn to the fact that an image of a painting by Hans Hartung (1904 – 1989) has been printed upside down in the exhibition catalog of the first documenta. C. Henry Kleemann wrote on August 13, 1955 that Hans Hartung was “greatly concerned” that the actual painting was also going to be installed in the exhibition upside down. If a second edition of the exhibition catalog was to be printed, a correction would have to be made so that the painting would no longer “stand on its head”. The painting in question was Hartung's "Composition" from 1950. It measures 89 x 130 centimeters and is a painting in brown tones with a flat brush stroke. Vertical, wide brush strokes cover the middle of the canvas, while the white background is visible at the edge. A narrow black and white curved stroke cross each other to form an accentuation.


Taking a look at the first edition of the exhibition catalog, it is necessary to look very closely: the signature appears to be upside down in the upper left corner of the painting. The image of the painting is therefore indeed wrongly reproduced. Even in the second edition the error has not been corrected, which suggests that the print had already been commissioned when Kleemann contacted Bode. Hartung's painting continued to stand on its head. A total of 12,390 copies of the catalog featured the faulty illustration. When Bode received the letter, the documenta had already been running for a month and the demand for the exhibition catalog was so great that, according to reports from the exhibition office, a third and fourth edition would have been necessary to satisfy all interested parties.


Only in the reprint of 1995 is Hartung's composition finally corrected. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of documenta, the catalog was re-printed one last time and the small but decisive change was made. Hartung's signature is now in the right place at the bottom right of the painting. As Bode's reply unfortunately has not been retained in the papers of the documenta archive, Hartung could still be reassured: in the exhibition, his work was hung correctly in the large painting hall of the Fridericianum. This is proven by the photographic documentation of the installation, in which the work can be seen in the far distance.


All three editions of the documenta catalog and also the letter from the Kleemann Galleries are located in the documenta archiv and can be viewed there.


Lena Voss