ARCHIV - 24.09.2020, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf: Hito Steyerl, Künstlerin, aufgenommen in der Kunstsammlung K21. (zu dpa: «Künstlerin Hito Steyerl zieht Arbeiten von documenta ab») Foto: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

At the moment, one looks on in amazement as those responsible for Documenta, or rather irresponsible ones, let the world art show in Kassel run completely aground. The longer the documenta management around director Sabine Schormann continues to do nothing, the more impossible the situation becomes for the 1,500 artists involved, who remain in a state of limbo in Kassel.

Because of the work exhibited on Friedrichsplatz with anti-Semitic depictions, the major exhibition was even a topic in the Bundestag this week. The Union wanted to set up an independent commission of inquiry. The application was rejected, as was the AfD’s demand that the research discipline postcolonialism be shut down altogether and no longer be publicly funded. So now the ball is back in the hands of Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth. With a five-point plan and more control by the federal government, Roth wants to ensure that the next Documenta can no longer hit such a wall.

The Documenta Fifteen, on the other hand, can hardly be saved, it seems. Where are they supposed to come from, the experts, the mediators, the educators who are now supposed to conduct the difficult dialogue about anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, if nobody fetches them? Who should discuss with the visitors, as the Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, demands on Saturday? Even hopefuls like the Frankfurt philosopher Meron Mendel, who had agreed to appraise other critical works of art at the documenta, fled.

Mendel has since justified his resignation in several interviews, the process simply did not get off the ground, he had the impression that Schormann was putting off the process. Contact with the Ruangrupa group of curators, for example, only came about because Mendel made contact privately. Mendel told the Berliner Zeitung that he considered the Documenta management to be “neo-colonial”. He suspects that Ruangrupa doesn’t want to have a say. After throwing down, Hito Steyerl followed shortly thereafter.

The 56-year-old media artist is one of the few stars of the Documenta Fifteen. Your film installation in the Ottoneum Museum of Natural History in Kassel, along with the activist contributions, the parties and workshops of the artist collectives, is most likely what the western visitor imagines as a contribution to a world art exhibition. Steyerl’s work was not paid for from the budget of the Lumbung members, as Ruangrupa calls the collectives involved, but by the artist’s gallery. Exactly the kind of economy that Ruangrupa wants to avoid for the documenta.

In an email, Steyerl demanded that her work be dismantled, she too has lost confidence in the management and, after Mendel’s rejection, no longer believes in a differentiated treatment of the anti-Semitism issue. This has a high signal effect. Those who continue to be there somehow carry the stigma of anti-Semitism. Steyerl’s video installations in the Ottoneum have actually been gone since Friday evening, they were dismantled. In her email, the artist also referred to “unsafe and underpaid working conditions for some of the staff”, which also brings Ruangrupa into disrepute, although the precarious working conditions probably did not first arrive in the German art world with them.

In the Bundestag’s culture committee last week, Ruangrupa member Ade Darmawan also said that the biggest challenge was to ensure the safety of everyone involved by the end of the hundred days. Not only the curatorial collective is threatened. Local media and social networks reported that the queer Indian group Party Office had canceled its live program because participating artists in Kassel were being bullied and threatened by “transphobic men”. As those affected report, nobody cares about that either. One of those attacked has already left Kassel. More will follow if nothing is done so negligently.