Welcome to the fun house! Sharks, skaters and smelters liven up Documenta 15

Various venues, Kassel, Germany
Celebrating the power of the collective, this year’s art jamboree veers from serious to jolly to chaotic. Our critic dodges the skateboarders – and finds peace in an Indonesian rice barn

On the parched grass outside the Fridericianum Museum in Kassel, one of the oldest public museums in the world, sits a wan little black tent. Painted on one side is a statement: “The emergency has replaced the contemporary.” I’m not even certain that this tent is officially part of Documenta 15, or a response to it, but it is as succinct as any other definition of the current edition of the exhibition. Held every five years in the city, Documenta is frequently talked about as the world’s most important contemporary art show, a keynote for our changing times. The word contemporary has for a long while sounded meaningless, nothing more than a catch-all, its end announced by Tino Sehgal’s invigilators at the 2013 Venice Biennale, who pranced around the German Pavilion singing “This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary!” to startled visitors.

Do we need yet another art world jamboree, with hot-shot artists and big ideas, a portentous theme and a nexus of the curatorial and the academic, the conceptual and the commercial? So horrible is the current global situation, so broken the sense of what art is or what it can say about the world, Documenta 15 needed to do things differently. The current Documenta intends to be both a dismantling and a corrective to the systems of art production, galleries, art fairs and exhibitions that constitute what is casually referred to as “the art world”, with its star artists, its often shadowy financing, its them-and-us mentality. As it is, Kassel, which has a street named after Joseph Beuys – who said that everyone was an artist – seems the right place for this current Documenta. What Beuys didn’t say was that all art was worth the time of day.

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