Anti-Semitic symbols shown: Minister calls for clarification of the Documenta scandal

Antisemitic symbols shown
Minister demands clarification of the Documenta scandal

“That shouldn’t have happened,” says the general director of the documenta, apologizing for the anti-Semitic content at the art exhibition. Hesse’s Minister of Art takes the organizers to task. She has a suspicion as to why it could have come to this.

With an apology and attempts at an explanation, the processing of the anti-Semitism scandal at documenta fifteen continues. Hesse’s Minister of Art, Angela Dorn, sees the problem partly as a result of the lack of a responsible curator. “Responsibility for the art shown lies primarily with the artistic direction. The fact that this time the selection committee assigned this to a collective and not to a single curator apparently meant that the care and responsibility of curating suffered have,” said the Green politician.

Dorn emphasized that she had always been assured of repeated inquiries at Documenta gGmbH that there was no evidence of anti-Semitic imagery at the exhibition. “Why not all works were examined in detail in the light of the debate in the run-up to the opening and what contribution better communication through society could have made remains to be clarified.” The shareholders gave the documenta the clear mandate to check all the works shown “in the sense of responsible curating”.

The general director of the Documenta, Sabine Schormann, had previously apologized. It had been assured that no anti-Semitic content would be shown at Documenta fifteen. “Unfortunately, we didn’t keep this promise. And that shouldn’t have happened,” she told ZDF and Hessischer Rundfunk (HR). “Anti-Semitic depictions must not have a place in Germany, not even in a global art show. This also applies to all understanding of the concerns of the Global South and the imagery used there.” The dialogue that has begun will be continued with respect for the diversity of cultural spaces of experience.

Criticism of the curating collective

A work called “People’s Justice” by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi caused a wave of outrage, many saw it as anti-Semitic imagery. Those responsible for the Documenta initially decided to cover the work with black panels of fabric. It was completely dismantled on Tuesday evening.

“First of all, it is important that the work of art was taken down,” said Dorn. Now it has to be a question of working through how it was possible for such a visual language to be shown publicly. “It is the task and responsibility of Documenta gGmbH to ensure that this is done. We have formulated our expectations and of course offer our support.”

The chairman of the supervisory board of the show, Kassel’s mayor Christian Geselle, also emphasized on Monday that the curating collective Ruangrupa from Indonesia had always assured from the beginning of the debate that anti-Semitism, racism or violence would have no place at the documenta. “In this one case, they clearly failed in their responsibilities,” he said.

The controversial banner was only installed after many journalists and trade visitors had already previewed the documenta – according to the organizers last Friday afternoon. The reason given for the delay: necessary restoration measures due to storage damage. The work was not made for Documenta fifteen, but was shown for the first time in 2002 at the South Australia Art Festival in Adelaide.

“You have to stand up for it”

Meanwhile, the federal anti-Semitism commissioner criticized the organizers of the Documenta for “a series of wrong decisions”. “The curators’ decision that no Jewish artists or artists from Israel were invited to one of the most important art exhibitions in the world was the beginning of a series of wrong decisions, so that the situation that has now occurred has been announced for weeks and has become increasingly critical,” said the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, Felix Klein. “Now at the latest it is urgently necessary that dialogue is finally sought, including with the Central Council of Jews.”

The founding director of the Documenta Institute in Kassel, Heinz Bude, demanded consequences for the Documenta gGmbH. He criticized Director General Schormann for her communication work after the pictures with anti-Semitic content were discovered at the art exhibition: “The documenta was a disaster and one has to take responsibility for it. The Federal President rightly said that responsibility cannot be outsourced,” said the sociologist in the program “Kulturzeit” on 3sat.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany also brought personal consequences into play. “It is correct that the anti-Semitic work of the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi was removed from the Documenta,” said Central Council President Josef Schusterin Berlin in a statement. However, this does not mean that the topic of anti-Semitism and the debate about whether this year’s Documenta is related to BDS are over. BDS stands for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”. The movement wants to isolate Israel economically, culturally and politically.

“Now we have to think about personnel consequences,” said Schuster. He did not give any further details. Germany’s image in the world has already been damaged by this incident. The Documenta, which can be experienced every five years, is considered the most important international presentation of contemporary art alongside the Venice Biennale. The 15th edition of the show since 1955 lasts until September 25th.

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