Documenta 15 — the quinquennial exhibition of contemporary art hosted in Kassel, Germany, which closed this past Sunday, September 25 — released attendance figures that “exceeded organizers’ expectations,” according to a statement. In total, 738,000 people attended, representing a modest 17% decline from the previous edition’s visitor total of 891,500 in Kassel. (That edition was split between the cities of Athens and Kassel, with over 1.2 million visitors between the two locations in total.)
Over 15,000 season tickets were sold, suggesting that there was a cohort of dedicated exhibition-goers from the surrounding region. A total of 33,000 visitors were children who attended as part of school groups. About one-third of those visiting Documenta came from abroad, spanning 86 countries. Those between the ages of 25 and 40 were part of the most well-represented age demographic, making up 40% of visitors.
This year’s edition of Documenta was the first to record a fall in attendance in the exhibition’s history — though one that is not completely unexpected two years following the onset of a global pandemic. Documenta’s 2022 numbers compare favorably with dips in turnout that have been logged across the cultural sector before and after the start of the pandemic. In February of this year, the American Alliance of Museums calculated that across over 700 cultural institutions in the United States, attendance was on average only about 62% of what it had been prior. France, too, registered the same long-term drop in attendance, with museum attendance in 2021 also remaining only 62% of what it had been in 2019.
Documenta 15’s relatively strong showing may suggest that the national and international controversy surrounding allegations of antisemitism riddling the show has not substantially made a dent in visitor numbers. Beginning in May, accusations of antisemitism raised by a pro-Israel blogger and lodged against Documenta’s curatorial group ruangrupa and Palestinian participating artists in the exhibition were reported on by German media outlets. In June, a banner titled “People’s Justice” by Indonesian collective Taring Padi was removed by leaders and curators of the exhibition in response to criticism of certain depictions of Jewish figures as hateful. German culture minister Claudia Roth condemned the antisemitic imagery at Documenta, and German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his opening speech at the exhibition to encourage its leaders to “do more” to address antisemitism there. Later in the summer, Documenta director Sabine Schormann resigned. Throughout the exhibition’s run, artists and organizers have denounced the antisemitism allegations as politically motivated attempts to suppress the expression of criticism against Israel’s policies that have been described by human rights groups, including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem, as apartheid.
Alexander Farenholtz, managing director of Documenta, sees the latest edition as a success. “In view of the antisemitism debate that accompanied it, this documenta did not have an easy time placing its actual artistic concerns,” Farenholtz said. “I wish that when we look back at the exhibition we could also see it through the eyes of the many visitors: namely, as an artistic endeavor that addresses key issues of our time.”
Before this year’s iteration, attendance at Documenta has steadily increased. In 1997, Documenta 10 saw 628,776 visitors — a figure that has risen each edition before this one.