By Helena Smith
The Greek capital has been invaded by talking frogs, dyed lambs and marble tents. But many locals are furious at the ‘colonial attitudes’ of the German art extravaganza
‘Hello, hello,” croaks a voice in the undergrowth. “This is Ben!” I’m in the lower gardens of the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, where the sound of frogs and froglike voices seems to be coming from the flowers, bushes and trees that line its manmade waterway. It is a bizarre experience in what is otherwise an oasis of calm. But this amphibian chorus is actually a work of contemporary art, a piece of “sonic graffiti” emanating from 24 speakers concealed in the greenery. Why is this august museum – famed for its religious art, its ancient manuscripts, icons and ceramics – venturing into such strange new territory? Because Documenta has come to town.
Documenta is the year’s most anticipated art event and, for the first time, the disorientating extravaganza has spread itself across a guest city as well as Kassel, the German town where it was born 10 years after the second world war. “We wanted to be open to contemporary art,” says Katerina Dellaporta, the Athens museum’s director. “But how much the average Greek is open to it is another question.”