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Clemens Ottenhausen

Ph. D. Candidate, Art and Art History
2019-2020 Rothman Doctoral Fellow

This dissertation provides the first comprehensive English analysis of the international art exhibition Documenta which started 1955 in Kassel, Germany, and is currently preparing its fifteenth edition to open in 2022. Ottenhausen discusses Documenta in the context of mid-century art history, exhibition architecture, and its role in rehabilitating political practices in the visual arts. His work intervenes in the existing German literature’s preference given to chronological and outdated historiographic approaches that reinforce false ideas of authorship and neglect the debates that dominated art history and the humanities at the time. Tracing the continuities and changes within the art during the 1950s, he argues that Germany’s Jewish and political culture was not only neglected but purposefully ignored following the trauma of World War II. The goal of the project is to show how the exhibition benefited from the violence that had taken away all the aesthetic and cultural influence from the Jewish and political avant-gardes during the Third Reich. Ottenhausen claims that it left postwar society with a vacuum which later generations used, in the 1968 student protests’ long aftermath, to turn Kassel and Documenta into an important platform for the negotiation of new political and ecological artistic practices.