Last week, Documenta concealed and then dismantled a monumental banner by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi that contained pictures of a Mossad agent and a caricature of a Jew. The work faced a swift outcry on social media and from politicians such as Claudia Roth, Germany’s culture minister.
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Roth was among those who demanded what she called “structural reforms” at Documenta last week. She outlined a five-point plan for the exhibition, which takes place once every five years in Kassel, that included a demand for greater clarity from the show’s curator, the Indonesian collective ruangrupa, and said that changes at Documenta were a “prerequisite for future federal funding.” She also called for federal organizations, including the Central Council of Jews in Germany, to play an expanded role in future editions.
“The goal,” Roth said, “must be that the next documenta can once again be an inspiring and avant-garde place for contemporary art in all its dimensions and facets.”
At least one of Roth’s points has already been fulfilled: ruangrupa and various other leaders at Documenta, as well as Taring Padi itself, issued extensive statements about the removed work last week.
“We apologize for the disappointment, shame, frustration, betrayal, and shock this stereotype has caused the viewers and the whole team who has worked hard alongside us to make documenta fifteen a reality,” ruangrupa and the artistic team said in a statement on Friday.
Ruangrupa’s apology was not enough to ameliorate the concerns of some German politicians who wanted to see more concrete evidence of change.
On Tuesday, Felix Klein, the anti-Semitism commissioner of Germany, echoed some of Roth’s points when he said that Kassel had too much power over Documenta. He told Die Zeit that it cannot be “that the federal government withdraws, that a city like Kassel does it alone and also simply ignores warnings that are issued in public and also by the federal government.”
Meanwhile, Boris Rhein, the Prime Minister of Germany’s Hesse state, where Kassel is sited, called for a more comprehensive investigation of what’s on view at Documenta.
“It was wrong not to have more talks in advance,” Rhein told the Frankfurter Rundschau, demanding more federal leverage over the show.
The Taring Padi controversy is separate from a different anti-Semitism one revolving around the participation of the Palestinian collective the Question of Funding in the current edition. Some Jewish groups alleged that it was anti-Semitic to include the collective because its members supported the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. Documenta’s management and ruangrupa have denied that it was anti-Semitic to include the Question of Funding this year.