Shortly after the opening of Documenta fifteen, new allegations fueled the anti-Semitism debate surrounding the show, which had been smoldering for months. The director of the Anne Frank educational institution, Meron Mendel, asked those responsible for the world art exhibition in Kassel to remove a contribution by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi because of anti-Semitic motifs.
Among other things, a soldier with a pig’s face can be seen on the large-scale banner on Friedrichsplatz. He wears a scarf with a Star of David on it and a helmet that says “Mossad”. That’s the name of the Israeli foreign intelligence agency. “This is a clear crossing of borders,” Mendel told the German Press Agency on Monday. “These images leave absolutely no room for interpretation. This is clear anti-Semitic agitation.”
The work must be covered immediately or, at best, removed, he demanded. In the second step, there needs to be a dialogue about what went wrong and where the blind spots of this documenta are.
Months ago, an alliance in Kassel accused the Indonesian curator collective Ruangrupa of also involving organizations that supported the cultural boycott of Israel or were anti-Semitic. Ruangrupa and the documenta firmly rejected the allegations. Later, the Central Council of Jews in Germany also got involved. A series of discussions intended to calm people down has been cancelled.
So far, Mendel had backed the documenta in the debate. He said he saw no anti-Semitism there, but criticized the lack of positions by Jewish artists from Israel. Mendel emphasized on Monday that not the entire exhibition should be described as anti-Semitic. “You have to differentiate. Something must have gone wrong. But something like that shouldn’t happen.” The responsibility for ensuring this now lies with the curators and the management of documenta fifteen.
The Hessian Minister of Art Angela Dorn (Greens) wants to follow up on the clues. “My personal impression is that there is anti-Semitic imagery here,” Dorn said on Monday in Wiesbaden.
She therefore contacted documenta general director Sabine Schormann with the aim of “clarifying things as quickly as possible, possibly also with the help of experts on anti-Semitism from academia”. The minister emphasized that she expects “that we, as shareholders of documenta gGmbH, will soon deal with the results in a special meeting”.
“I have always said that anti-Semitic resentment and anti-Semitism should not be expressed at the documenta,” says Dorn. The Documenta and Ruangrupa themselves have emphasized this again and again.
Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth also found clear words: “In my view, this is anti-Semitic imagery,” said the Green politician. “I’ll say it again: human dignity, protection against anti-Semitism, as well as against racism and any form of misanthropy are the foundations of our coexistence, and this is where artistic freedom finds its limits.” The documenta must immediately communicate this to the curators and artists make it clear and draw “the necessary consequences”.
The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, was also outraged on Monday. The Council had been criticized from many quarters for its concerns about this year’s Documenta. He was even indirectly accused of racism. “However, it doesn’t matter where artists who spread anti-Semitism come from,” emphasized Schuster. Artistic freedom ends where misanthropy begins. “This red line was crossed at the documenta.” Those responsible now have to live up to their social responsibility and draw consequences, he demanded.
The AfD in the Hessian state parliament even demanded that Documenta fifteen be ended. The anti-Semitic art must be removed immediately and Schormann resign, said Frank Grobe, cultural policy spokesman for the AfD parliamentary group. “She has to bear the responsibility that anti-Semitic pictures are shown in Germany of all places at the world’s most important exhibition for contemporary art.”
Against the background of the debate about the 15th edition of the documenta, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had already emphasized the limits of artistic freedom at the opening of the show on Saturday. It is an important pillar of democratic societies, but it also has its limits. “Art can be offensive, it should trigger debates.” Criticism of Israeli politics is allowed. “But where criticism of Israel turns into questioning of its existence, the limit has been crossed,” he had said.