06.07.2022, Hessen, Kassel: Besucher der documenta fifteen gehen zum Werk "Return to Sender - Delivery Details" vom Künstler-Kollektiv The Nest im Staatspark Karlsaue. Die Kunstausstellung geht bis zum 25.09.2022. Der Ausschuss für Kultur und Medien des Bundestags befasst sich mit der documenta fifteen nach dem Antisemitismuseklat um eine Arbeit. Foto: Swen Pförtner/dpa - ACHTUNG: Nur zur redaktionellen Verwendung im Zusammenhang mit der aktuellen Berichterstattung und nur mit vollständiger Nennung des vorstehenden Credits +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

No Documenta has ever managed to become the subject of a Bundestag debate – and probably no other art exhibition either. The scandal surrounding the anti-Semitic motifs on the banner “People’s Justice” by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi in the middle of Kassel’s Friedrichsplatz has thus reached its peak.

More excitement is hardly possible, more attention can hardly be achieved for a portrayal that is as mean as it is unacceptable, which was first imposed three days later and then removed.

All the speakers in the heated plenary debate that followed the meeting of the Culture Committee on Thursday evening made it clear that it was about much more than an image, a major curatorial mistake, for which the Indonesian artist collective Ruangrupa, who invited Taring Padi, only hesitantly apologized of the Bundestag from the previous day followed.

Anti-Semitism and its ability to socialize in the Arab and Asian world are one thing, and it is shocking that it received a forum in Germany of all places at the most important international exhibition of contemporary art.

The other is the lack of accountability on the part of the Documenta management, which apparently still shows no insight, and the creeping suspicion that the cultural sector is being infiltrated by actors who are hostile to Israel.

Both got mixed up in the debate, and it becomes even more difficult to separate the problem areas from one another when party political intrigues play a role, as was observed in the Bundestag.

The CDU MP Gitta Connemann set the sharp tone as the first speaker with a list of all the malicious names for the discredited world exhibition: Documenta of shame, Rocky Horror Picture Show, even anti-Semita, as Sascha Lobo described them in a “Spiegel” – called column.

Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth, who appeared in the television broadcast, sat next to her on her bench like a heap of misery, having opened the show, which had been suspected of being anti-Semitic since the beginning of the year, still full of optimism. To this day, she has not succeeded in doing anything visible to counteract the allegations that were rightly made afterwards. Hardly anyone talks about the art that is otherwise shown.

Anti-Semitism is the central theme of this documenta, Gitta Connemann explained, thereby demonstrating the tilt of her own perspective as if this were her main topic. However, the CDU politician rightly complained about the good faith of the Minister of State for Culture and that the reviews she had announced did not take place. According to reports, it has still not started. That would again confirm the devastating mismanagement in Kassel.

Connemann’s next attack was seen by the House of World Cultures as a hoard of anti-Israel tendencies, as well as by the “GG 5.3 Cosmopolitan Openness” initiative, which criticized the Bundestag resolution on BDS. Among the signatories is the head of the Federal Cultural Foundation Hortensia Völkers, and the website thanks Andreas Goergen, Claudia Roth’s head of office, for his support.

According to Connemann, there is a structural problem. However, she did not go into detail about the contents of the initiative and why numerous directors of festivals or large houses such as the Humboldt Forum also joined the initiative.

The CDU motion she prepared, which calls for a committee of inquiry and a report from the federal anti-Semitism commissioner, did not find a majority after the debate. Nevertheless, not only the Documenta, but also the office of Minister of State for Culture suffered severe damage from the scandal.

Helge Lindh from the SPD pointed out how dangerous it is to mix up the topics. He warned against wanting to clear up the debate about postcolonialism with the discussion about the Documenta, as the AfD is trying to do in its motion.

As a subsequent speaker, Marc Jongen from the AfD promptly castigated postcolonialism as “inherently anti-Semitic”, he described the Documenta as a “radical left-wing activist camp”. Erhard Grundl from the Greens immediately parried and called it a shabby performance of how the AfD exploited anti-Semitism and at the same time had corresponding partisans in its own ranks. He criticized the CDU/CSU and AfD for using the Documenta debate for a tribunal against cultural institutions. The AfD motion to cut funding for postcolonial projects and to stop the restitution of Benin bronzes, for example, fell through.

The Bundestag debate showed with all clarity that what has been simmering in the cultural sector for a long time has come to the surface in Kassel. Calling it a culture clash would be stretching it too far, but the mutual distrust is evident. In the future, not only Kassel will be looking more closely after the Fifteen.

The Documenta, with Ruangrupa as an intangible collective of curators, which encouraged the disappearance even more by inviting other collectives, and a management that gave up all control, were the ideal soil for the disaster. “Wouldn’t it be better to abolish the Documenta?” asked Dorothee Bär from the CDU/CSU. “The exhibition is damaging the country.”

This would hardly be a solution, as it would by no means abolish anti-Semitism in Germany at the same time. Instead, Simona Koß (SPD) called for more to be done against everyday hatred of Jews in Germany. Just last week, the RIAS report pointed out that over 2,700 anti-Semitic incidents were registered in 2021, six of them involving extreme violence. However, the image of Taring Padi on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel spread all over the world.