New anti-Semitic find at documenta 15 show leaves critics ‘speechless’

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documenta fifteen
A woman attending the documenta fifteen exhibition holds the brochure entitled "Presence des Femmes," published in Algiers in 1988, which contains motifs criticized as anti-Semitic.

The German art exhibition documenta fifteen, long dogged by allegations of showcasing anti-Semitic art, came in for fresh criticism on Thursday after the revelation of yet another inflammatory item amid its exhibits.

After a banner showing anti-Semitic stereotypes caused an uproar and was taken down in late June, new allegations came to light this week after a visitor highlighted drawings in a 1988 brochure from Algiers, which was part of a display about the struggle of women in Algeria.

The drawings show anti-Semitic stereotypes and refute the legitimacy of the nation of Israel, according to the Anti-Semitism Research and Information organization RIAS Hessen.

The chief of the Anne Frank Educational Centre, Meron Mendel, told dpa that he is “speechless” that such artwork was on display at the documenta at the same time his team was running an information campaign just outside on anti-Semitic imagery.

Moreover, Mendel said it was shocking that, even though a visitor raised concerns weeks ago, he was not informed of the complaint at the time even though he was an advisor to the exhibition.

“Instead, it was decided to keep the works with clear anti-Semitic imagery on display on the basis of a legal assessment,” Mendel said.

documenta fifteen
A video installation by the initiative “Archives des luttes des femmes en Algérie” (“Archives of the Women’s Struggles in Algeria”) projected onto the floor at the Fridericianum as part of documenta fifteen shows hands leafing through the brochure entitled “Presence des Femmes”. The brochure contains other motifs criticized as anti-Semitic.

A new panel of experts is being set up to deal with the handling of anti-Semitism at the exhibition. Mendel called on the curators to take the anti-Semitic works down until they have been discussed with the new panel.

Politicians from across the political spectrum were also vocal in their criticism. Notably, members of the liberal Free Democrat party (FDP) – which is in the ruling federal coalition – called for the exhibition to be closed down until the allegations and all of the artworks have been thoroughly examined. Documenta has refused such an examination.

“Despite numerous warnings and indications, the documenta did not prevent anti-Semitic works being displayed,” said German politician Frank Müller-Rosentritt of the FDP.

Müller-Rosentritt called for government funding for the documenta to be put on hold pending a thorough investigation.

The general secretary of the FDP party, Bijan Djir-Sarai, called for the exhibition to be shut down altogether until the artworks have been examined for anti-semitism.

Moreover, the two shareholders of the exhibition, the city of Kassel and the province of Hesse, where documenta takes place, demanded that the drawings in question are not to be displayed “until they have been appropriately contextualized.”

In a statement, the two shareholders criticized the fact that the documenta had decided internally that the imagery was not anti-Semitic, instead of calling on external expert opinion.

Even though the drawings were not an exhibited artwork so much as archive material, “responsible curation is important given the anti-Semitic imagery, and, at the least, it requires an appropriate contextualization,” the statement said.

German Culture Minister Claudia Roth did not go as far as to call for the documenta to close or stop receiving public money, but did speak out in support of the demands of Kassel and Hessen that the artwork in question should be removed.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, also criticized the leadership of the documenta.

“Either no one at the documenta is able to spot anti-Semitism, or no one is prepared to stop it,” he told the German Bild newspaper.

He also criticized that the new head of the documenta has shown himself reluctant to institute a special advisor on the issue of anti-Semitism.

The former head of the documenta, Sabine Schormann, resigned in mid-July due to the allegations of anti-Semitism. (dpa Via REUTERS 28/07/2022)

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