The picture is gone and all questions are open. A day after the 10 by 10 meter banner of the Indonesian collective Taring Padi with anti-Semitic depictions was cleared from Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, the documenta seems to have lapsed into a state of paralysis, having only managed to make a dry statement.
But the scandal trembles. The call for the dismissal of at least the documenta general director Sabine Schormann resounds loudly because she has not fulfilled her supervisory duties. Her flat statement that the poster was not designed for Documenta fifteen, but was created as part of the concept of the political protest movement in Indonesia and is now being shown in Europe for the first time, does not make the anti-Semitic depictions any less scandalous.
What began cheerfully and was supposed to be pushed away as a debate imposed by the media at the opening has imploded. This documenta can no longer get rid of the stigma of negligence, the stamp of anti-Semitism. The structure of the show, which has become the most important international exhibition of contemporary art since it was founded in 1955, is already being worked on.
The fact that a collective was given leadership made the dynamic uncontrollable, it is now said. The fact that it comes from Indonesia would explain its lack of sensitivity to the German context. Does it follow from this that in future no more collectives and only sufficiently western socialized curators will be appointed as documenta makers? Hardly likely.
Ever since the Belgian Jan Hoet turned Documenta IX into a happening three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which the amateur boxer himself got into the ring, the institution has been repeatedly questioned. The subsequent Documenta by the French Catherine David triggered an outcry – for the first time the show was curated by a woman who also opened up the view to the Arab countries. In retrospect, her edition turned out to be one of the most important and groundbreaking for the urgently needed change of perspective in the western art world, which continued to focus on itself.
Okwui Enwezor opened the door to Africa with Documenta eleven, while Roger Buergel and his wife Ruth Noack brought South America in with the twelfth edition. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev tried to sensitize all living beings, even plants, Adam Szymczyk to free the documenta from the corset of the Hessian setting by distributing it to Kassel and Athens in order to gain global relevance.
The invitation to Ruangrupa was the logical next step to involve the Asian countries, to try out a different artistic practice at a traditional event like the Documenta and to advance the postcolonial discourse.
There were always allegations, slating. The million dollar hole in the budget for the last Documenta also raised fundamental questions. The managing director at the time had to leave early. However, the Ruangrupa debacle has reached a different dimension. The sociologist Heinz Bude calls it “the greatest damage to the Documenta brand since it came into existence”.
How it goes on? Probably like always. A selection committee for the next management must be appointed, which selects the next Documenta doer, the next doer. With each of the last documentas, it is said to have become more difficult to appoint the eight members of the commission. Because their responsibility is at least as heavy.