Documenta Files Criminal Complaint After Exhibition Space Is Vandalized Amid Anti-Semitism Controversy

Documenta, the esteemed exhibition set to open in Kassel, Germany in June, filed a criminal complaint Tuesday after a participant’s exhibition space was vandalized with messages alluding to an icon of the alt-right in Spain.

The vandalized space was due to host work by the Question of Funding, a collective that “aims to rethink the economy of funding and the culture it produces in Palestine,” according to Documenta’s website.

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The space, known as WH22, was spray-painted with the phrases “187” and “Peralta.” Documenta said it believes the former to be a reference to a portion of the California penal code that defines murder. “Peralta” may be an allusion to Isabel Peralta, a young Spaniard whose anti-Semitic speeches about Jews have earned the attention of members of the alt-right. Documenta said it had also discovered buttons with phrases reading “Solidarity with Israel” and “Freedom not Islam! No compromise with barbarism! Fight Islam consistently!”

No artworks were damaged during the vandalism, a Documenta spokesperson said in an email to ARTnews.

“We consider the vandalist acts as a politically motivated threat at The Question of Funding’s and Party Office’s venue and as an attack on all of us, lumbung members and artists,” the Indonesian collective ruangrupa—this edition’s curators—and the artistic directors of Documenta said in a statement.

Documenta 15 has been mired in controversy for months after Jewish organizations and an activist group with a focus on anti-Semitism accused the show and ruangrupa of anti-Semitism. Both have vigorously denied the allegations.

The accusations center around the alleged involvement of “anti-Israeli activists.” Certain activists have attempted to link the Question of Funding to the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, a space in Ramallah that some have claimed bears connections to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

Ruangrupa called the accusations “bad-faith attempts to delegitimize artists and preventively censor them on the basis of their ethnic heritage and presumed political positions.” Documenta has echoed that sentiment, labeling some of the allegations “racist.”

There is no evidence that the Question of Funding’s members are currently tied to the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, or that the center itself is connected to BDS, a movement whose pro-Palestine focus has been the subject of scrutiny within Germany.

Documenta is currently set to open on June 18 in 32 venues across Kassel. Because its opening roughly coincides with Art Basel and the beginning of the Berlin Biennale, this edition of the quinquennial is expected to bring large swaths of the art world to the German city.

The quinquennial has given no indication that it plans to alter this year’s edition in response to the pushback it has faced from some Jewish groups. Claudia Roth, Germany’s culture minister, has defended Documenta in carefully worded statements that made a plea for “artistic freedom.”

In a statement, Christian Giselle, the mayor of Kassel, said, “Having discussions about documenta fifteen is one thing, but intimidating artists by committing crimes goes far beyond the pale and damages the city of Kassel as a place of artistic freedom and host to artists from all over the world.”


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