nFollowing allegations of anti-Semitism against Documenta 15 in Kassel, a banner that was highly critical of Indonesian artist group Taring Padi was covered. Due to a collective depiction of characters enabling anti-Semitic readings, the collective with management and artistic direction decided to “cover up the work in question and install an interpretation”, Documenta announced on Monday evening.
“Everyone regrets that feelings have been hurt in this way,” the newspaper quoted Sabine Schuermann, General Manager of Diocenti, in the statement. “Together we decided to cover the banner. Plus, we get more outside experiences.”
The group responsible for the work, Tring Body, emphasized that it was “committed to supporting and respecting diversity”. The work does not contain “content intended to portray any demographic in a negative way”. The banner was first displayed in 2002 and “indicates the symbolism pervasive in the political context of Indonesia”. As a sign of respect and with great regret, the work will now be covered. “The work has now become a monument to grief at the impossibility of dialogue at this moment,” the collective artist said.
Among other things, a soldier with a pig’s face can be seen on the large banner. He is wearing a sash with the Star of David on it and a helmet with “Mossad” written on it – the name of Israel’s foreign intelligence service.
This topic provoked sharp criticism: Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth (the Greens), the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli Embassy described the action as anti-Semitic and demanded its consequences. According to a media report, the head of the German-Israeli Association Volker Beck summoned the public prosecutor.
“Human dignity and protection from anti-Semitism as well as against racism and any form of hatred for humans are the basis of our coexistence, and here artistic freedom finds its limits,” Roth explained. Roth demanded that the document should “immediately make this clear to curators and artists and draw the necessary conclusions”.
The Israeli embassy explained that the items displayed in some of the exhibits “reminiscent of the propaganda that Goebbels and his followers carried out in difficult times in German history.” All red lines are “not only crossed, they are broken”.
The director of the Anne Frank Educational Foundation, Myron Mendel, asked those responsible for the World Art Fair in Kassel to remove Tring Buddy’s contribution due to anti-Semitic motives. “This is a clear border crossing,” Mendel said of the sign. “These images leave absolutely no room for interpretation. This is clear anti-Semitic incitement.”
The work should be covered immediately or, in the best case, removed, as demanded. In the second step, there should be a dialogue about what went wrong and where the blind spots are in this document.
“My personal impression is that there are anti-Semitic images here,” said Deputy Chairman of the Documenta Supervisory Board, Hessen State Art Minister Angela Dorn (Green Party). So I immediately contacted the document’s general director, Sabine Schuermann, with the goal of clarifying the matter as quickly as possible – if necessary with the help of experts on anti-Semitism from academia.
The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, was also outraged on Monday. The council has been criticized from many quarters for its concerns about Documenta this year. He was even indirectly accused of racism. “However, it doesn’t matter where the artists who spread anti-Semitism come from,” Schuster emphasized. Artistic freedom ends where the hatred of people begins. He demanded that “this red line has been crossed in Documenta.”
Volker Beck, a Green Party politician and president of the German Israel Association, ran the attorney general’s office. “Measured by the criteria of the Wittenberg Federal Court of Justice ‘Judensau’ judgment, the artist’s collective ‘Taring Padi’ work represents a case of infringement,” Beck said.picture-Newspaper. “Since those responsible for cultural policy at the federal, state and Kassel level failed to encourage the Documenta management to treat their exhibition responsibly, I decided to submit the matter to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Berlin and Kassel for examination.”
The American Jewish Committee in Berlin was shocked by Tring Buddy’s motives. Remko Limhuis, director of AJC Berlin, demanded that the managing director of Documenta Scheuermann be released from her duties immediately and the related business removed. Secretary of State for Culture Roth is expected to comment on “how such blatant anti-Semitism can emerge despite previous discussions”. The American Jewish Committee in Berlin considers new meetings of expert groups or committees “in light of this apparent anti-Semitism to be outdated. Political leaders must explain their position and immediately draw appropriate conclusions.”
Steinmeier criticized the lack of Israeli artists
In the lead up to the exhibition, which opened on Saturday, its organization was a subject of controversy, mainly due to the way it was treated with Israel. There was particular criticism of the Indonesian art collective Ruangrupa, who entrusted him with artistic direction. Ruangrupa was accused of including organizations in the document that question Israel’s right to exist or support its boycott.
In his opening speech on Saturday, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he had long doubted whether he should make the speech at all. “Because some criticisms of Israeli policy, such as the construction of settlements, are justified,” recognition of the Israeli state is “the basis of discussion and a precondition for us.”
Steinmeier also described it as disturbing when “a growing number of representatives of the Global South refuse to participate in events, conferences or festivals in which Israeli Jews participate.” In this context, it is remarkable that “there are probably no Jewish artists from Israel represented in this important exhibition of contemporary art.”
The federal government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, also criticized those responsible for the document. Klein told Bild am Sonntag newspaper that they had not succeeded in “discrediting the allegations of anti-Semitism” against the exhibition. Shares the chief critical evaluation. “Anti-Semitism cannot be part of the publicly funded artistic discourse in Germany.”
Documenta, which has been in Kassel since 1955, is considered the most important exhibition of contemporary art in the world alongside the Venice Biennale. It is held only every five years. The offer runs until September 25th.
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