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Documenta: Panel to review antisemitism allegations

August 2, 2022

A group of seven academics will investigate the antisemitism allegations surrounding the exhibition in Kassel, Germany. The committee has started with a critique of the documenta management.

Images in a 1988 brochure belonging to the initiative "Archives of Women's Struggles in Algeria" were criticized as antisemitic
Images from a 1988 brochure of the initiative "Archives of Women's Struggles in Algeria"Image: Uwe Zucchi/picture alliance/dpa

A seven-member committee headed by peace and conflict expert Nicole Deitelhoff will assess the antisemitic allegations surrounding the contemporary art exhibition "documenta" in Germany.

Documenta's shareholders, the city of Kassel and the German state of Hesse made the announcement on Monday.

"We expect that indications of possible antisemitic imagery and promotion of Israel-related antisemitism will be investigated, taking into account the constitutionally protected freedom of art," Kassel mayor and supervisory board chairman Christian Geselle said.

A portrait of Dr Nicole Deitelhoff, professor of international relations and theories of global governance at Goethe University in Frankfurt
Nicole Deitelhoff has been appointed chair of the advisory board for documenta 15Image: Jens Krick/Flashpic/picture alliance

In addition to Deitelhoff, who is a professor of international relations and theories of global governance at Goethe University in Frankfurt, the advisory board includes:

  • Marion Ackermann, general director of the Dresden state art collections (SKD)
  • Julia Bernstein, professor of discrimination and inclusion in immigrant societies at Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences
  • Marina Chernivsky, psychologist, founder and executive director of OFEK, a counseling center for victims of antisemitic violence in Berlin
  • Peter Jelavich, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland
  • Christoph Möllers, professor of public law and philosophy of law at Humboldt University, Berlin
  • Facil Tesfaye, junior professor at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Hong Kong

Scandal overshadows documenta 15

German Culture Minister Claudia Roth welcomed the appointment of a committee to monitor documenta after the scandal surrounding allegations of antisemitism.

"Such a broad-based expert monitoring of this art exhibition is necessary and overdue," said the Greens politician. The freedom of art goes hand in hand with responsibility in publicly-funded cultural institutions, Roth said.

People standing outside in front of the frame where artist Indonesian collective Tarina Padi's artwork was taken down after allegations of antisemitism
The banner of Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi was taken down on June 21Image: Sabine Oelze/DW

Documenta is considered one of the most important art exhibitions in the world. But it has been accompanied by accusations of antisemitism for months.

As early as January, the first voices were raised accusing the Indonesian curatorial collective Ruangrupa and some invited artists of being close to the anti-Israeli boycott movement BDS. Shortly after the exhibition opened in mid-June, a banner by the Indonesian art collective Taring Padi was taken down after protests.

Last week, illustrations in a brochure on display at the Museum Fridericianum again came under criticism for antisemitic imagery. Since the drawings by artist Burhan Karkoutly had already been legally examined, the documenta management announced that it now wanted to classify them in the exhibition through appropriate contextualization.

Jewish perspective given too little consideration

The newly appointed committee criticized the documenta management. Although the latter had previously shown itself open to expert advice, it seemed to want to determine essential questions of how to deal with antisemitic art, according to a statement by the scientists circulated on Monday.

The position that neither further works of art would have to be removed for displaying antisemitic content nor a systematic examination of the works would be necessary contradicts a professional and open-ended dialogue, the experts said.

A portrait of new documenta managing director Alexander Fahrenholtz
Alexander Farenholtz is the new managing director of documenta 15Image: KSB/Falk Wenzel

In June, a work by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi caused outrage. It depicted, among other things, a man with a pig's nose, a bandana with a Star of David and a helmet with the inscription "Mossad," which is the name of Israel's national intelligence agency. In addition, it depicted a man with payot — sidelocks worn by some Jewish men — whose hat appeared to be adorned with a rune from the Schutzstaffel or SS, the major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany.

The work was first covered and later removed. Calls for consequences subsequently grew louder. The art exhibition's general director, Sabine Schormann resigned , in mid-July and Alexander Farenholtz has taken overas the event's new chief. 

so/rbr (dpa/AFP)

This article was originally written in German.