At the opening ceremony of Documenta fifteen, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized those responsible for the art show’s handling of allegations of anti-Semitism. “It is striking that there are probably no Jewish artists from Israel represented at this important exhibition of contemporary art,” he said. He was not sure in advance whether he would even come to the opening. The world art exhibition was officially opened in Kassel on Saturday.

He finds it disturbing that representatives of the “Global South” are increasingly refusing to take part in events or festivals together with Jewish Israelis. “Freedom of opinion and freedom of art are at the heart of our constitution. Criticism of Israeli politics is allowed,” said Steinmeier. “But where criticism of Israel turns into questioning of its existence, the limit has been crossed.”

For the first time, Documenta fifteen will be curated by an artist collective from Asia – by the nine-strong group “Ruangrupa” from Indonesia. According to her ideas, the world art exhibition should focus more than in the past on the view of the people in Asia, Africa and Latin America on the modern world and their problems. The exhibition organizers feel connected to the philosophy of the “Lumbung”, a common rice barn common in Indonesia, in which the harvest is collected and is available to everyone. The “Ruangrupa” sees the core of its exhibition concept in the joint contribution of skills and sharing.

At the beginning of the year there had already been a discussion about hostility to Israel around the documenta. The accusation of anti-Semitism was based on the fact that some of the invited artists are supposed to support the international BDS campaign, which the Bundestag has classified as anti-Semitic, calling for a boycott against Israel.

The allegations had been rejected, among others, by the mayor of Kassel and chairman of the documenta supervisory board, Christian Geselle (SPD). The artists of the “Ruangrupa” had positioned themselves clearly against anti-Semitism, racism, right-wing extremism, violent religious fundamentalism and any kind of discrimination.

At the opening on Saturday, Geselle promised documenta visitors a “special exhibition” in a challenging time: “The audience can expect a very dynamic, interactive, colorful, lively, happy, but also thoughtful Documenta fifteen.” Kassel is a cosmopolitan city and is happy about the special flair during the next 100 days.

According to the organizers, around 1,500 artists from all over the world are involved with their works in the exhibition, which is spread over around 30 locations in the city. In addition to traditional exhibition locations such as the Museum Fridericianum, the documenta hall and the Karlsaue, there are many new locations. For the first time, the focus of the world art show is on the industrially shaped east of Kassel.