In Kassel, Germany, the art exhibition documenta 14 is displaying a replica of the Greek Parthenon made of steel, plastic sheeting, and over 100,000 banned books.
The Parthenon of Books, as the work is known, is built behind the Fridericianum museum, where Nazis burned some 2,000 books as part of their “Campaign against the Un-German Spirit” in 1933. (The Fridericianum was at that time still a library.)
The documenta 14 website describes the installation as “a symbol of opposition to the banning of writings and the persecution of their authors,” a kind of celebration of the written word and its threat to those in power.
This isn’t the first time that Marta Minujín, the artist behind the project, has used banned books in her work: in 1983, she built the very similar installation El Partenón de libros after the fall of the U.S.-supported military junta in her native Argentina. This Parthenon featured all of the books that the junta government had banned. After five days, Argentinians were encouraged to take titles from the installation and bring them home.
In preparation for the installation in Kassel, the art festival requested that authors, publishers, and individuals donate their banned books. With the help of professors and students from the University of Kassel, a long-list of 70,000 banned books was compiled. The list includes titles like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Alchemist, The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity, The Poet in New York, The Sorrows of Young Werther, The Metamorphosis, The Satanic Verses, and The Grapes of Wrath.
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