The work can no longer be seen, but the debate is not over: A heavily criticized installation at documenta fifteen in Kassel was first covered – and then dismantled on Tuesday evening. Around 100 people followed this, there were whistles and boos as well as applause. Only the scaffolding for the work of art initially remained standing. Now the calls for a reappraisal of the scandal are getting louder.
The large-scale banner installation “People’s Justice” by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi showed, among other things, a soldier with a pig’s face. He wears a scarf with a Star of David and a helmet with the inscription “Mossad” – the name of the Israeli foreign intelligence service.
After fierce public criticism, it was initially imposed with a black cloth on Monday. Kassel’s Lord Mayor Christian Geselle (SPD) announced on Tuesday that the banner would be removed.
“I’m angry, I’m disappointed. Because the city of Kassel and I, as mayor, feel ashamed,” said Geselle. “Something happened that shouldn’t have happened.” The installation has a clear anti-Semitic connection.
The curating collective Ruangrupa had been accused of anti-Semitism for months. Since the beginning of the debate, however, the group has always assured that anti-Semitism, racism or violence have no place at the documenta, emphasized Geselle. “In this one case, they clearly failed in their responsibilities.”
Among others, the support group “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” called for the dismantling. “Those responsible must ensure that it is worked out how such a picture could be hung up in the first place,” said the chairwoman of the support group Lea Rosh on Tuesday.
Rosh spoke of “anti-Semitism with a long message” in relation to the documenta. For months, those responsible have been asked to “prevent the anti-Semitism that is looming at documenta fifteen”. Just as long is appeased, ignored and moderated away.”
Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth (Greens) had also spoken out in favor of removing the controversial banner installation. On Tuesday in the 3sat program “Kulturzeit” she called for further processing. She only sees the dismantling as the first step.
Now she wants to “definitely have explained how this picture can be set up a few hours before the opening on Friday afternoon and nobody has recognized that it contains anti-Semitic imagery”. When asked whether she herself had been too gullible in the run-up to the documenta exhibition, the Green politician said: “I wasn’t gullible, I trusted.”
The International Auschwitz Committee called for dialogue with the artists. “It is high time to start a conversation at this documenta, to hear the artists from which worldview these pictures were created and to explain publicly on the part of the documenta why these pictures are met with resistance and rejection here,” explained Christoph Heubner , the executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, on Tuesday.
Whatever this overloaded picture wanted to say: the freedom of art is not unlimited either.[…]. It’s not the message I send that matters, but the one that gets through.
Hesse’s Minister of Art Angela Dorn (Greens) sees the scandal as having serious repercussions. “The work of art contains anti-Semitic codes that Jews rightly feel offended by,” Dorn explained. “The damage that has already occurred cannot be put into perspective,” said Dorn on Tuesday. “On the contrary, we have to work through how it was possible for such a visual language to be shown publicly at the documenta.”
The 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.
The general director of the documenta, Sabine Schormann, apologized on Tuesday. It had been assured that no anti-Semitic content would be on display at documenta fifteen. “Unfortunately, we didn’t keep that promise. And that shouldn’t have happened,” she told ZDF and Hessischer Rundfunk (hr).