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documenta fifteen - Antisemitismus-Vorwürfe
Image: Uwe Zucchi/dpa/picture alliance

The Anti-Semitism Scandal at Documenta 15

September 15, 2022

The Documenta 15 set out to foster dialogue between the Global South and the Global North. But instead, the international contemporary art exhibition was rocked by an anti-Semitism scandal.


As curators at Documenta 15, the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa wanted to champion community and tolerance; to use art to initiate a dialogue between the Global South and the Global North. But its "People's Justice" banner, featuring shocking anti-Semitic stereotypes, caused an outcry.  After two days, the work was taken down. That wasn't the end of it. Further examples of anti-Semitism were found in the featured artworks, including Palestinian propaganda films.

documenta fifteen - Antisemitismus-Vorwürfe
Image: Uwe Zucchi/dpa/picture alliance


How did Germany respond to the controversy? The general director of Documenta, Sabine Schormann, resigned. But no one appeared to take full responsibility. Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, was appalled. He says state-sponsored art exhibitions should not be allowed to be a platform for anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, the director of the Anne Frank Educational Center, Meron Mendel, offered his services as an advisor, but gave up after just two weeks.

Documenta 15 | Zeichnung von Dan Perjovschi
Image: Sabine Oelze/DW

Documenta's reputation suffered immensely. All 1500 participating artists felt implicated and saddened that the scandal overshadowed the exhibition's original vision of a mutually supportive art scene, independent of the market. Documenta could have become a festival of cultures that redrew the map of the art world. Instead, it ended in irreconcilable differences.

Arts.21 talks to artists and organizers and asks where Documenta 15 went wrong.



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