Anti-Semitism scandal: “The documenta is hanging by a thread”

Status: 06/22/2022 5:30 p.m

The work has been dismantled, the debate continues: After the anti-Semitism scandal at documenta fifteen, demands for personal consequences are getting louder – including from the Central Council of Jews.

The criticism of the “documenta fifteen” continues even after the removal of a work of art with anti-Semitic depictions. The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said it was now time to think about personnel consequences.

It is true that the painting by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi was taken down. However, this does not mean that the topic of anti-Semitism and the proximity of this year’s documenta to the Israel boycott movement BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) are over. The BDS is classified as anti-Semitic by the Bundestag, among others.

“Now we have to think about personnel consequences,” said Schuster. He did not give any further details. Germany’s reputation in the world has already been damaged by this incident.

Controversial image since removed

At the “documenta fifteen” that opened on Saturday, a man in a suit and tie with shark-like fangs and red eyes could be seen on a huge hidden object picture by the Indonesian artist group “Taring Padi” on the central Friedrichsplatz in Kassel. Side curls hang at the sides, the jacket lapel is yellow, the signal color of the Jews in the Middle Ages. The SS runes are emblazoned on the hat.

Another detail shows a person in uniform with a pig’s nose under a cannon barrel. The Star of David can be seen on the red scarf and the name of the Israeli secret service Mossad on the helmet. After public protests, the picture “People’s Justice” was initially covered with black cloths on Monday evening and then removed on Tuesday evening by decision of the documenta supervisory board.

The Kassel sociologist Heinz Bude described what happened at an event at the University of Kassel as “the greatest damage to the documenta brand since it came into existence”. This is a conclusion that can already be drawn, said the founding director of the documenta Institute.

nationwide criticism

Calls for further consequences were also heard outside of Kassel on Wednesday. The managing director of the German Cultural Council, Olaf Zimmermann, described the anti-Semitic incidents as so blatant that only a broad public debate involving the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the art and cultural associations could save the exhibition. “The documenta fifteen is hanging by a thread. It is now the task of those responsible for the exhibition to turn things around,” said Zimmermann.

The chairman of the state association of Jewish communities in Lower Saxony, Michael Fürst, told the Evangelisches Pressedienst that the general director of the documenta, Schormann, had to be asked whether she was in the right place and possibly thinking about resigning. The bishop of the Evangelical Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck, Beate Hofmann, called for a review. “Anti-Semitic statements must not be tolerated. It is important to identify and fight them, worldwide,” she said.

CEO apologizes

Hesse’s Minister of Art Angela Dorn (Greens) 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,” she told the German Press Agency. Dorn emphasized that she had been repeatedly assured that there was no evidence of anti-Semitic imagery at the exhibition.

Director General Schorman had previously apologized. She was also assured that no anti-Semitic content would be on display at documenta fifteen. “Unfortunately, we didn’t keep this promise. And that shouldn’t have happened,” she told ZDF and the Hessian radio. “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.”

Criticism of pro-Palestinian propaganda films

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian propaganda films in the program of the Kassel art show caused further criticism. The culture commissioner of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Johann Hinrich Claussen, criticized the fact that the documenta program included pro-Palestinian propaganda films without comment. These films are linked to the left-wing terrorist and anti-Semitic group, the Japanese Red Army, which carried out attacks in Israel in the early 1970s that left many dead.

“We are not only dealing with the dissemination of anti-Semitic clichés, but with the presentation of propaganda films from an anti-Israeli terrorist context,” Claussen told the epd. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” had previously reported on the film screenings.

The documenta, which has been held in Kassel every five years since 1955, is considered one of the world’s most important exhibitions of contemporary art. The “documenta fifteen” lasts until September 25th.

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