The Kunsthalle Fridericianum, one of the venues for dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany.

KASSEL - For 100 days, every five years, art lovers make the difficult pilgrimage to the town of Kassel, Germany, for an art exhibition, which was expertly curated this year by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. It takes days to navigate all the various venues where art is installed throughout the town, its parks and museums.

We started in the Fridericianum, the purported “brain” of the exhibition. The first two works we encountered set the tone: Ryan Gander’s I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorise (The Invisible Pull), which consisted of a light breeze blowing through the near empty ground floor rooms, and Ceal Floyer’s sound piece, ‘Til I get it Right – a refrain from Tammy Wynette’s classic song, which played over and over again in an empty room.  There is very little painting in this show, but we were thrilled to see Julie Mehretu’s four monumental vertical canvases, made specifically for the exhibition, which capture architectural fragments through layers of photographic transparencies and drawings.  

Ryan Gander’s breezy installation I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorise (The Invisible Pull).

The Hauptbahnhof played host to many great works, among them Lara Favaretto’s gigantic landscape made of scrap metal recuperated from landfills and recycling centers, “violently unloaded into a disused square,” as the catalogue explained. William Kentridge’s The Refusal of Time evocatively explored time and memory, a recurring leitmotif of his art. I loved Korean artist Haegue Yang’s Approaching: Choreography Engineered in Never-Past Tense, motorized Venetian blinds that opened and closed in a gracefully choreographed rhythm. Inspired by the architecture of the train station, the movement evoked the clatter of the arrival and departures boards, and the sensation of motion of the trains themselves.

Haegue Yang’s Approaching: Choreography Engineered in Never-Past Tense.

A discovery for our little group, consisting of collectors and Guggenheim Museum director and deputy director Richard Armstrong and Ari Wiseman, was Romanian artist Csákány István’s installation entitled Ghost Keeping, where beautifully carved renditions of machines, and the worker’s garb that they would have created had they not been transposed into wood, were displayed in a frozen state of time. The artist foregrounds the relationship between art and craft in an installation that was meticulous and ghostly.

Csákány István’s installation Ghost Keeping.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller melded reality and fiction in their video walk. Guided by a small screen of an iPod, you follow their directions to experience the compelling narrative they invented. You frame the images as if you are the camera operator, and all sorts of things happen that are not on the walk but on the screen – the strangest confusion of realities.

The food in Kassel is nothing to write home about, but we landed in a Swiss restaurant for dinner, called Matterhorn Stubli, and managed to eat very well – bündnerfleisch, potatoes with four cheeses (and rösti potatos, and spaetzle!) with a huge slab of Weiner Schnitzel, and a Toblerone chocolate mousse for dessert.  My next stop – the Cote d’Azur, where I can assure you the food will improve, and the landscape will change from the lush greenery of the fields to the blue of the sea.