During documenta 5 (1972), the French artist Ben Vautier (born 1935) created a "thinking room" at the ground floor of the Fridericianum, where he exhibited not only his art works but also himself. When he wasn’t lecturing the audience, the conceptual artist slept on a platform in the middle of the room while the exhibition was running. His contribution at the Fridericianum dealt with the much-discussed question of what art is, amongst other things. And while his large banner with the inscription "Art is redundant" on the roof of the Fridericianum shaped Kassel’s cityscape, Vautier's more complex statement could be found inside the museum in the middle of his other exhibits: "Art is the exhaustion of all possibilities".


Vautier provided a kind of a guest book for the visitors to the Fridericianum, thus offering them a medium for participation. These loose pieces of paper with the visitors' comments fill three folders in the records archive of the documenta archiv, and when one looks through them, it quickly becomes apparent that that they did not understand how art should be defined. The answer was neither provided by Vautier's panels on the subject of art nor by documenta itself, so the audience who participated expressed their displeasure in Vautier's guest book. The comments range from "Art is always elitist" and "Art is expression and skill" to "Art is the product of advanced brain plague" or even "Art is ... if you stay married to a man for 21 years".


Virtually every statement, regardless of the source of language, was commented on and supplemented by other visitors, in most cases even contradicted. Opinions remained divided, and in this hodgepodge of notes, countless own assumptions were made about how art could be defined. Each visitor had a very individual idea of art and with the help of Vautier's guestbook could even reveal themselves as an artist: the outline of a hand with a question mark in the middle was commented below with the words: "This is art".


One visitor wrote desperately in the guest book that he or she had not understood "what art is" to this day and received a reply from another visitor that neither Dürer nor Beuys or Picasso had ever understood it.


And the final answer to the question, what is art? - remains unexplained.


Lena Voss