documenta 1

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Wilhelm Lehmbruck's Kniende (1911) stood at documenta 1 in the entrance area to the stairwell of the Fridericianum

The first documenta took place from July 15 to September 18, 1955 in Kassel . It is considered the first large and comprehensive exhibition of modern art in West Germany after the end of the Second World War.

The initiator of the show was the Kassel art teacher and designer Arnold Bode . On the occasion of the Federal Horticultural Show and with financial means from the zone border funding , he managed to attract more than 130,000 visitors. The exhibition was therefore unexpectedly successful. It was conceived and prepared in an art group called Western Art of the 20th Century . Bode also brought in the Berlin art historian Werner Haftmann as an expert .

Place of issue

The exhibition venue was the Fridericianum in downtown Kassel, only a few hundred meters from the garden show grounds. The building, built at the end of the 18th century, is considered to be the first building designed as a museum on the European mainland and thus has a long tradition of exhibition. The Fridericianum had been badly damaged in the war and in 1955, at the time of the art show, was in a shell condition that formed the backdrop for the exhibition: bare concrete floors, exposed brick walls and surfaces made of Heraklith ("sauerkraut plates "). Windows were covered with white and black plastic sheeting and unsightly parts of the wall were concealed. This exhibition architecture, which in part arose out of sheer necessity, found positive echo years and decades later, reminding many visitors and chroniclers of the design of the Bauhaus or the Italian rationalism of the 1930s.

Artistic focus

The focus of the exhibition was less on “contemporary art” created after 1945. Rather, Bode wanted to bring visitors closer to the works of those artists who were ostracized under the name “ degenerate art ” in Germany during the Nazi era . Therefore, abstract art , especially abstract painting from the 1920s and 1930s, was the focus of the exhibition. The contemporary art of the Informel was not shown at this documenta, but was reserved for the follow-up exhibition, the II. Documenta in 1959 .

List of 148 participating artists

Josef Albers Kenneth Armitage Jean Arp René Victor Auberjonois
Giacomo Balla Willi Baumeister Max Beckmann Hermann Blumenthal Reg Butler
Eduard Bargheer Mirko Basaldella Max Bill Umberto Boccioni
Ernst Barlach Jean Bazaine Renato Birolli Camille Bombois
Afro Basaldella André Beaudin Roger Bissière Georges Braque
Alexander Calder Alexander Camaro Heinrich Campendonk Marc Chagall Roberto Crippa
Massimo Campigli Giuseppe Capogrossi Carlo Dalmazzo Carrà Giorgio de Chirico
Felice Casorati Bruno Cassinari Lynn Chadwick Antonio Corpora
Robert Delaunay Charles Despiau Theo van Doesburg Raoul Dufy
André Derain Otto Dix Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Max Ernst
Joseph Fassbender Lyonel Feininger Ernesto de Fiori Xaver Fuhr
Naum Gabo Fritz Glarner HAP Grieshaber
Werner Gilles Julio González Juan Gris
Hans Hartung Erich Heckel Werner Heldt Auguste Herbin
Karl Hartung Bernhard Heiliger Barbara Hepworth Karl Hofer
Alexej von Jawlensky
Wassily Kandinsky Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Oskar Kokoschka
Ludwig Kasper Paul Klee František Kupka
Berto Lardera Henri Laurens Fernand Leger Kurt Lehmann Wilhelm Lehmbruck
August Macke Marino Marini Otto Meyer-Amden Giorgio Morandi Gabriele Münter
Alberto Magnelli André Masson Joan Miró Mattia Moreni Zoran Mušič
Aristide Maillol Ewald Mataré Paula Modersohn-Becker Ennio Morlotti
Alfred Manessier Henri Matisse Amedeo Modigliani Richard Mortensen
Franz Marc Georg Meistermann Piet Mondrian Georg Muche
Gerhard Marcks Hans Mettel Henry Moore Otto Mueller
Ernst Wilhelm Nay Rolf Nesch Ben Nicholson Emil Nolde
Max Pechstein Pablo Picasso Filippo De Pisis
Antoine Pevsner Edouard Pignon Hans Purrmann
Otto Ritschl Kurt Roesch Georges Rouault
Emy Roeder Christian Rohlfs Henri Rousseau
Giuseppe Santomaso Gérard Ernest Schneider William Scott Mario Sironi
Edwin Scharff Wolfgang Schulze (Wols) Séraphine (Louis) de Senlis Pierre Soulages
Oskar Schlemmer Kurt Schwitters Gino Severini Toni Stadler
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff Scipione (painter) Gustave Singier Graham Sutherland
Sophie Taeuber-Arp Pierre Tal-Coat Hann Trier Heinz Trokes
Hans Uhlmann
Victor Vasarely Alberto Viani Jacques Villon Maurice de Vlaminck
Emilio Vedova Marie Héléne Vieira da Silva Louis Vivin Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart
Theodor Werner Walter Kurt Wiemken Hans Wimmer Fritz Winter Gustav H. Wolff


  • Exhibition catalog, documenta, art of the XX. century , Munich 1955, also reprinted by Prestel, Munich 1995.
  • Westecker, Dieter, u. a. (Ed.): Documenta documents 1955–1968. Four international exhibitions of modern art - texts and photographs ; Wenderoth, Kassel 1972, ISBN 3-87013-007-5
  • Kimpel, Harald; Stengel, Karin: documenta 1955. , Edition Temmen, Bremen 1995, ISBN 3-86108-514-3
  • Grasskamp, ​​Walter: documenta. Art of the XX. Century. International exhibition in the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel. In: Bernd Klüser / Katharina Hegewisch (ed.): The art of the exhibition. Insel, Frankfurt a. M. 1991, pp. 115-125, ISBN 3-458-16203-8
  • Cultural Office of the City of Kassel / documenta Archive (Ed.) / CIS GmbH (Prod.): Documenta 1–9. A focus on four decades of exhibition history 1955–1992 , CD-ROM; Hatje Cantz, Bad Hersfeld 1998, ISBN 3-8932-2934-5
  • Wollenhaupt-Schmidt, Ulrike: documenta 1955. An exhibition in the field of tension between the debates about the art of the avant-garde 1945–1960. Peter Lang, Frankfurt a. M./Berlin/Bern/New York / Paris / Vienna 1994, ISBN 978-3-631-47242-2
  • Schieder, Martin: The documenta I (1955). In: Étienne François / Hagen Schulze (ed.) German places of memory. 3 vol., CH Beck, Munich 2001, vol. II, pp. 637-651.