Cedar Lewisohn heads to Documenta 13, hungry for groundbreaking art and local cuisine. What’s the Wurst that could happen?
I decided to write up a diary of all the food I ate while on a trip to the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Documenta takes place every five years and is widely regarded as the barometer against which all other major survey exhibitions are judged. At the last one, in 2007, the curators invited maverick genius Ferran Adrià to set up a version of his world renowned elBulli restaurant, to which a select few were invited to sample his experimental gastronomy. I wondered how the 2012 show would fair, when viewed through the prism of all things belly?
When I arrived in Kassel, I found out part of the exhibition was in the city’s train station. After wandering around I came across a half- empty gymnasium at the back of the station which was being used by a group called AND AND AND. They seemed to be living there, or perhaps they’d set it up as a temporary base camp for the duration of the show. Either way, the blackboards on display announcing a FOOD KIOSK (SOLIDARTITY ECOMOMY) and a ‘Non-Capitalist Herbal Tea Garden’ immediately caught my attention. Unfortunately, the person invigilating the space had no idea about the information board: “Maybe try the press office”, he suggested. At the office, I was given a map and told the location of AND AND AND’s kiosk and informed that there had been an event there where artists had made cocktails. Brilliant, I thought to myself, until I found out that the cocktail shindig had happened the week before.
So, time to see more of the main show, but not before stopping for lunch opposite the Documenta Halle and diving into a couple of flame-grilled Bratwursts. No trip to Germany would be complete without a serving of the country’s favourite sausage. After seeing the main hall and Neue Gallery, it was time for some apple pie for me and a sesame seed cake for my companion, both of which were scoffed in one of the outdoor cafés near the park entrance.
After that, it was time for a bit more art, before heading back to Wolfhagen, the little village west of Kassel, where we were staying. Dinner was schnitzel with chips downed with a Bindling German beer. Blinding it was, too.
Next morning’s breakfast consisted of yogurt, bread, cheese, boiled eggs, ham and a local sliced dark sausage which was downed before we headed back into Kassel to see the Tino Sehgal’s live sound installation This Variation and Jerome Bell’s Disabled Theatre, made with a group of handicapped actors. After that, we headed to the Karlsaue park and finally found AND AND AND’s Kiosk where I had a fruit- flavoured butter milk drink and a flapjack. The Kiosk had been set up by the artist group as an alternative to the official Documenta food outlets, the distinction being that all the food available at this Kiosk was sold ‘not for profit’ and sourced from local suppliers. I thought it was great, but my companion found it offensive and said it was “just like any other breast milk-selling yuppie- hippy cafe”. The difference between AND AND AND’s intervention and Fernan Adrià’s, from the previous Documenta, is telling; the latter’s extreme exclusivity as opposed to the former’s more egalitarian offering, which, perhaps, says something about our post- nancial crash world.
Next to the Kiosk was a collaborative plant sculpture, the work Claire Pentecost, Can Ya Love Foundation and The University of Kassel. I think that edible plants count as food art, although I didn’t get to try any of the ‘veg’ that was growing on the work. I also noticed, pasted on the side of the kiosk, a flyer for something called a ‘Good Food March’.
Next stop was my favourite Euro seafood diner, Nordsee, for a sh-roll lunch and it was back to the park to check out Robin Kohn’s happening/installation. I’d heard a rumour they were cooking couscous, but there was none to be seen when I arrived. There was, however, a poster announcing ‘Dinning in Refugee Camps—The Art of Sahrawi Cooking’. I promised to download the cookbook later and headed to an outdoor plant sculpture by Song Dong, which also contained edible elements. Further into the park was the Glashaus Café, set up especially for the show in a massive greenhouse, but I didn’t try any food. Back at the hotel that evening, I had a glass of Riesling to wash down pork with garlic and cream sauce. My companion, ever the adventurer, opted for venison with mushroom, cherry and pear on the side.
Breakfast the next day was much the same as on the other days. Now I’m at the airport, writing up the diary.
Documenta 13 art and food, done.