The controversy over the fifteenth Documenta is not dying down – and that’s a good thing. The debate must be held. Nothing would be worse than wanting to remain silent about the allegations of anti-Semitism, along the lines of “we don’t want this form of attention”.
But a single exhibit worldwide that can be viewed as anti-Semitic is enough. And that is exactly what has fueled the debate about the exhibition in Kassel, which has been smoldering for months.
In any case, it would be too late to try to prevent the debate. Not only in Germany, but also worldwide, it will be noted how this country deals with the allegations, what conclusions and even consequences are drawn from them.
After all, the opening day was already accompanied by smaller rallies by pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups.
Art is not political? Not even close. And in dealing with it, politics becomes art. After all, the Documenta, which has been in Kassel since 1955, is the world’s most important exhibition of contemporary art alongside the Venice Biennale. Then they are only available every five years, which means: the last impression remains. quite a while So this one can’t stay here.
Even after the opening, the Federal Government Commissioner for Anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, criticized those responsible for documenta for not having been able to dispel allegations of anti-Semitism in a credible manner.
Klein’s criticism isn’t even very harsh—it’s only accurate. Because the Indonesian curatorial collective, the Ruangrupa group, has involved organizations that support the cultural boycott of Israel and are classified as anti-Semitic. Ruangrupa, artist from Muslim Indonesia, which to this day has no relations with Israel out of sympathy with the Palestinians.
But it cannot be that anti-Semitism is part of the publicly funded artistic discourse in Germany.
In this respect, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had every reason, even an obligation, to approach it critically.
His sentences are constitutive: “Where criticism of Israel turns into questioning of its existence, the limit has been crossed.” In Germany, the recognition of Israel is the basis and prerequisite for the debate.
At the same time, behind this is the clear realization that is part of the reason of state, so to speak, namely that German politicians must not remain silent when the perpetrator in the country is accused of anti-Semitism. What did the new Prime Minister of Hesse, Boris Rhein, say? This also applies to the “secret varieties of criticism of Israel as substitute anti-Semitism”. So it is right.
More about the Documenta in Kassel:
The Prime Minister could have said, like the sociologist Heinz Bude, that in Germany a remarkably large part of the cultural elite sympathizes with the aggressive BDS campaign; BDS stands for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” and is a transnational political movement that wants to isolate the State of Israel economically, culturally and politically.
And the Federal President could have referred to a Bundestag resolution passed by a large majority against any funding of BDS. No documenta is allowed to thwart this decision in a public way, especially where the state supports them financially through the Bundestag.
Anti-Jewish statements by artists active in Kassel and the complete absence of Jewish artists from Israel at the Documenta are, seen in this light, a scandal.
No wonder that the Green Volker Beck has called on the Green Claudia Roth, as Minister of State for Culture, to finally take a clear stance against BDS and the anti-Israeli climate at the Documenta.
The bare minimum now would be to hold a public debate in Kassel, with the collective of curators, politicians, the Central Council of Jews, and scientists. Those responsible for Documenta must want to document that they know in which country this exhibition is taking place.