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.
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
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. 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.
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.”