Invaded by art, documenta in Kassel
In the fall of 1943, the Royal Airforce devastated the industrial town of Kassel, Germany, killing 10,000 people and destroying the beautiful town square. In order "to reconcile German public life with international modernity and also confront it with its own failed Enlightenment," [source] art professor and designer Arnold Bode instigated an invasion of a different sort. With its debut in 1955, documenta continues to celebrate the contributions of abstract art (declared degenerate by the Nazi government), attracting a diverse group of artists and hundreds of thousands of tourists to this small community for 100 days every five years.

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity for the community. Except for one thing. It is an exhibition which has nothing to do with Kassel. It is organized by an artistic elite and promoted by outside organizations with little regard for the people who live there, a problem which has haunted documenta from the beginning. It has even spawned a counter-exhibition: Poor.
A parallel "alternative" arts festival is attempting to highlight the difference between the city's glossy Documenta [sic] image and its working-class reality. Members of an action group called Poor hold protests on the city's streets most nights claiming to protect local culture from the invaders. "People should know that four-and-a-half out of every five years in Kassel are crap," said Michael Schmeisser, the organiser. The Independent
But it is good for you, citizens of Kassel. While Hitler may have denied you access to this form of art, modern Germany is going to thrust it upon you. Not that the citizens are incapable of stamping a little of their own attitude onto the event. Chilean artist Lotty Rosenfeld had traveled all the way from South America to tape white crosses along the streets in a protest against violence. But her exhibit met with an untimely burial.
For an event that claims the title "World's biggest contemporary art exhibition", it was hardly an auspicious start: just hours before the opening of Germany's prestigious Documenta [sic] modern art extravaganza, street cleaners tore up one of the show's key exhibits and chucked the remnants into a municipal dust cart. Ibid.

Don't get me wrong. I love art. Even abstract art. Even when it pushes the boundaries, so long as I am expecting it. But I don't think I'd like it thrust upon me. It looks like the closest the exhibition came to celebrating something of value to the local community was German artist Joseph Beuy's planting of 7,000 oak trees back in 1987. The oak is a long-standing symbol of eternality and strength in Germany. Although it, too, met with initial resistance, this exhibit has grown on the people of Kassel. As Dr. Rhea Thönges-Stringaris summarizes the exhibit (my translation):
There is probably scarcely anyone in Kassel who, whether in avenues or in parks, doesn't come into contact with Beuy's trees daily: a tree, a stone. We got accustomed to it. They are part of our everyday life and the the same time components of an unusual, because invisible, sculpture. No one can ever see it as a whole. In the traditional sense, a "sculpture" is not conceivable without its countours. But on paper, on the map, contours are not tangible. (German)
That seems to me to better exemplify the purpose of art as a combination of human skill and purpose. More so than attempting to plant a rice paddy on the side of a hill in Kassel, anyway.

Photo credits: Kassel Mission, 7000 Oaks