Documenta 15: Head of German art fair resigns over outrage over anti-Semitic works | Documenta

The chief executive of Documenta, one of the world’s biggest art fairs, was forced to resign following outrage over anti-Semitic exhibits when it opened in Germany last month.

Documenta, which transforms the peaceful German city of Kassel into the center of the art world every five years, brings together more than 1,500 participants and – for the first time since its launch in 1955 – was organized by a collective, the Indonesian Ruangrupa.

But on Saturday, its supervisory board expressed “deep dismay” at the “clearly anti-Semitic” content after the show opened in June, saying an agreement had been reached with Sabine Schormann, the chief executive, to “end at [her] Contract”.

An interim director would be appointed, a statement added.

Two days after the exhibition opened to the public, one of the works exhibited by Indonesian art group Taring Padi was criticized for depictions that the German government and Jewish groups said went too far.

On the incriminated mural is the representation of a pig wearing a helmet bearing the inscription “Mossad”.

On the same work, a man is depicted with side curls often associated with Orthodox Jews, bloodshot fangs and eyes, and wearing a black hat with the SS insignia.

The work was covered up after Jewish leaders and the Israeli Embassy in Germany expressed “disgust”, but the row cast a deep shadow over an event now in its 15th edition.

Sabine Schormann: resignation. Photography: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

German Culture Minister Claudia Roth backed Schormann’s departure and demanded an investigation into how the anti-Semitic work was admitted in the first place.

“The necessary conclusions must be drawn,” said Roth, quoted by the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.

Documenta’s supervisory board promised a thorough investigation, conceding that “a lot of trust has unfortunately been lost” and pledging to prevent further “anti-Semitic incidents”.

But Remko Leemhuis, director of the American Jewish Committee Berlin, accused Documenta of not going far enough and of “still not understanding the problem”.

Quoted by the daily Bild, Leemhuis was particularly critical of the jury’s reference to “charges of anti-Semitism” because the articles were, according to him, clearly “anti-Semitic”.

The contemporary art event had been clouded in controversy for months over its inclusion of a group of Palestinian artists strongly critical of the Israeli occupation.

Ruangrupa has been criticized for including The Question of Funding collective because of its ties to the Israeli BDS boycott movement.

BDS was labeled anti-Semitic by the German parliament in 2019 and banned from receiving federal funds. About half of Documenta’s budget of 42 million euros ($42.4 million) comes from public funds.

Kassel was home to a large forced labor camp during World War II and was heavily bombed by the Allies. Documenta aimed to put Germany back on the cultural map after the Nazis’ campaign to crush the avant-garde.

The fair, which runs until September 25, now ranks with the Venice Biennale among the leading showcases of contemporary art in the world.

Christopher S. Washington