Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the same applies for art. Willi Bongard (1931-1985) presented a radically different view in his Informationsdienst art aktuell at documenta 5. As an art and business journalist, his focus when visiting an art exhibition was not on viewing visually appealing objects, but on recognizing true great art. In his "instruction manual for documenta 5", he shared his decisive criteria for forming an opinion with his readers.


What might be read today as a humorous guide for visiting the next documenta turns out, on closer inspection, to be catalog of criteria for important and enduring contemporary art. Right at the beginning, he clarified what he considered the documenta to be: "An excellent opportunity for information about some aspects of the current art scene - seen through the glasses of a (Szee-) mann.” He took away the illusion from his readers that everything shown at documenta was great art. It reflected only in part of the current art scene and was additionally censored by the view of the curator, in this case Harald Szeemann. But he was also critical of contemporary art itself. One should not be deceived by visual stimuli, because the best works are usually those that "irritate, annoy or even shock you at the most”. Even if there were only less than a dozen of them from the last four years.


In his publication, which appeared from 1971-1985, Bongard trained the eyes of his readers, most of whom belonged to the art clientele. This became particularly clear in the attached interview with the then art critic of the Tagesspiegel Heinz Ohff (1922-2006) from April 8, 1970, in which Bongard emphasized the objectivity of his Informationsdienst and legitimized his position in the art world. In case you want to prepare yourself for your visit of the next documenta and train your art connoisseur's eye or simply need something to smile about, take a look at Bongard's instruction manual. The document can be found in the records of documenta 5 here in our records and papers and can be viewed in our reading room by booking an appointment prior to your visit.


Natalie Schmidt