Director of Documenta art exhibition resigns over anti-Semitism controversy

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

The director of one of the world’s most prestigious art exhibitions has resigned after this year’s exhibition was embroiled in a scandal over anti-Semitic images.

Sabine Schormann, managing director of the Documenta, which takes place in Kassel every five years, resigned on Saturday. A statement from the exhibition’s board of directors expressed “its deep dismay that the opening weekend of documenta 15 featured clearly anti-Semitic motifs.” According to the board, an interim director will be appointed.

The 15th edition of Documenta is their largest exhibition to date, curated by the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa. But its long-awaited opening in mid-June was quickly overshadowed by one of the pieces on display: a controversial 8ft x 12ft banner made by Indonesian activist art collective Taring Padi in 2002.

The work, titled “People’s Justice,” features caricatures of Jewish military figures, including one wearing the SS insignia on a black hat and depicted with fangs and the curls worn by Orthodox Jewish men. Another character, a soldier resembling a pig, has “Mossad” scrawled on his helmet.

The large-scale artwork “People’s Justice” by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi became the center of a massive controversy because of its anti-Semitic motifs. Recognition: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

According to a statement by the artists, the mural was created in response to the “violence, exploitation and censorship” of life under the rule of former Indonesian President and army officer Suharto, and was intended to “uncover the complex power relations at play behind these injustices”. including the democratic foreign governments that they say “openly or covertly” supported military rule in the country.
Federal Minister of Culture Claudia Roth sentenced the inclusion of the banner calling the work anti-Semitic on June 20, two days after the opening of the documenta. “People’s Justice” was covered up and eventually removed just days into the show, which runs through the end of September.

Following the removal of the artwork, Taring Padi apologized to the Jewish community, the German public and the Documenta visitors.

“The images we use are never intended as hatred of any particular ethnic or religious group, but as criticism of militarism and state violence,” the group said. “We have misrepresented the involvement of the Government of the State of Israel – and we apologize for that.”

The artwork was temporarily covered with black fabric before being removed.

The artwork was temporarily covered with black fabric before being removed. Recognition: Uwe Zucchi/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

Remko Leemhuis, director of the American Jewish Committee Berlin Lawrence, said in an email that the recording of People’s Justice shows there is a “massive problem” with anti-Semitism in German art and culture and on the international stage.

“It is outrageous that the supervisory board did not express a word of regret in its statement and apologized to the Central Council of Jews in Germany or the Jewish community in Germany as a whole for the damage caused,” he said.

“People’s justice” was not an isolated controversy. The 2022 edition of Documenta has been criticized for months for the anti-Semitic views of some of its participating artists, which Leemhuis says have still not been addressed by the board.

Going forward, Documenta’s Board of Directors recommended that the exhibition “enter a process of consultation” with academic experts who could assess the issues surrounding the current exhibition and “advise should further anti-Semitic images emerge.”

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