A major scandal in one of the most important events in the art world

Fifteenth Edition Document, one of the world’s most important contemporary art fairs held every five years in the German city of Kassel, has been engulfed in controversy just days after opening to the public because of a work with a representation deemed anti-Semitic. After initially shutting it down, four days later – this past June 18 – the organizers removed the contested work from Friedrichsplatz, one of the main public squares in Kassel. A month later, general manager Sabin Schormann resigned.

is titled People’s justice, an eight by twelve meter banner designed in 2002 by Indonesian artist group Taring Padi. He depicts Indonesian political life as a great battle between the military and the oppressed people – the oppressors – led by Suharto, who was the Indonesian dictator from 1967 to 1998. Some caricatures also appear in the ranks of the oppressors, including the Jewish character – the black hat and PeyoteCharacteristic curls in front of the ears – depicted with bloodshot eyes, sharp teeth and SS insignia on the cap.

A character in uniform with a pig’s face and red handkerchief is represented, along with a series of figures classified as members of the CIA, MI5 and the KGB, all foreign secret services accused of aiding the Suharto regime. Mossad (Israeli Secret Services) inscription on neck and helmet with Star of David in center.

Description of contested banner. (Thomas Lownes/Getty Images)

After pictures of the two characters surfaced on social media, Documenta received a lot of criticism and criticism. German Culture Minister Claudia Roth issued a statement in which she said that in her opinion the proposal was. People’s justice Anti-Semitic sentiment argued that the limits of artistic freedom had been overstepped, while many Jewish associations and a section of German politics immediately demanded Scharmann’s resignation.

The first reaction of the organizers and editors was to cover the criticized work with a black cloth and add explanatory text about what happened. In this first press release, Taring Badi expressed regret that the details of the work had been misconstrued with the original intent, apologized for the pain caused, and announced that he had decided to keep it under wraps. “As a monument to the impossibility of dialogue at this time”.

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The announcement ended with Schorman saying that he had no role in pre-screening the content of the exhibited works, and could not have one.

Sabine Schormann, former director of the document. (AP Photo / Jens Mayer)

A day later, a second press release, signed by Sharman, announced the withdrawal of the work from the exhibition, in agreement with the artistic direction and artists. In a third announcement, Scharmann announced further restructuring measures in collaboration with the Anne Frank Education Center in Frankfurt, stating that “he is not responsible for the artistic project, but he is responsible for giving the artistic movement the technical freedom to carry it out.” .

The artistic direction of document 15 was actually entrusted to the group of Indonesian artists Ruangrupa, who justified himself, “The truth is that we cannot collectively identify the figure in the work, a character that provokes. Anti-Semitic classics stereotypes. We understand that this is our fault. ” On the other hand, The banner’s artists defended themselves by saying they “depicted the intervention of the State of Israel”. [nella dittatura di Suharto] The wrong way”.

Prior to the opening of Documenta 15, accusations of anti-Semitism were made in connection with a lecture program supporting the exhibition. Joseph Schuster, President Central Council of JewsThe representative body of German Jews criticized the selection for including a discussion of anti-Palestinian racism.

The show itself was designed in response to accusations of anti-Semitism involving some Palestinian artists. Posted on the blog Coalition Against Anti-Semitism Kassel It accused the Palestinian artist group The Question of Funding of joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to boycott the state of Israel and condemned the absence of Israeli artists from the scene. The post was immediately picked up and circulated by German newspapers. According to the organizers, the allegations were unfounded, but the event was suspended in May because many speakers dropped out for fear of censorship.

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The German press described what had happened “The biggest cultural and political disaster in the history of the document” and “Degrading the status of the document“. The controversy prompted the German federal government to demand greater control over the contents of the quinquennial exhibition, which is largely financed by public, local and federal funds.

A staging of a job in document 15. (Thomas Lownes/Getty Images)

Since its founding in 1955, when it attracted 130,000 visitors, the document’s volume, funding and audience have continued to grow, reaching nearly a million visitors in the last two editions. The budget was also gradually increased, reaching 42 million euros in this version. Documenta is considered one of the two fundamental events for contemporary art, equaled only by the Venice Biennale. But unlike the Biennale, Documenta takes place every five years. Thanks to this extension over time, the Kassel exhibition has become disconnected from the recognition of the latest trends in contemporary art and has established itself as a place for innovative artistic proposals.

The curators chosen to run the document often work with an experimental approach. This year, for the first time, the movement was entrusted to a group of artists who have been working together since 2000 under the name Ruangrupa in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. The exhibition begins with the idea that tumor, an Indonesian term that refers to a rice field in which the surplus of produce is divided equally among members of the community. This production model was applied to the organization of the Kassel exhibition, which was based on the sharing and redistribution of economic resources, cooperation between artists, and the concept of the common good.

Based on this model, Rwangrupa initially invited 14 other “colleges”, groups of artists who work together and unite under a single name. Each of these groups invited its own artists to participate. These new artists invited even more artists. As a result of this participatory and open process, the number of participating artists reaches into the thousands, according to Farid Raghun, a member of Ruangrupa. “It’s completely out of control,” Raghun said in an interview. “That’s right, we don’t want to check.”

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On July 8, German Hito Steyerl, a famous artist featured in the exhibition, announced that he was withdrawing his work from Document 15. “I have no faith in the organization’s ability to mediate and translate the problem,” he wrote. On the same day, the director of the Anne Frank Education Center, Myron Mendel, who was supposed to implement the restructuring plan, resigned from his position as a consultant to Document 15. Interview with Weekly SpiegelMendel decried the lack of “honest dialogue” on anti-Semitism, arguing that neither an in-depth conversation with Ruangrupa nor a large-scale investigation of anti-Semitism was carried out in this year’s edition.

In a statement published a few days before his resignation, Sharman responded to the criticism by writing: “The art movement and now 1,500 artists already feared censorship in January following accusations of anti-Semitism, and for this reason they rejected a jury of outside experts. They were judged on their appearance, skin color, They found themselves suspected, vilified and even threatened to some extent because of their religion or sexual orientation.

In this context, Shorman continued, “the renewed demand of the media and politics that the exhibition be examined by an external expert panel with decision-making powers, led not only to disagreements with Professor Meron Mendel, but also to a strain on the relationship of trust he had with Ruangrupas and the participating artists.

The former director concluded by explaining that the importance of the document is based on the ability to see the future not only in the field of art but also in social issues. Artistic freedom of the respective artistic directors and participating artists ยป.

Sabato Documenta issued a press release announcing the termination of Sharman’s contract as general manager. However, the controversy did not stop the arrival of visitors, on the contrary: according to data reported on July 13, the revenue from ticket sales at the end of June 2022 was higher than in the previous two editions.

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