Shortly after the opening of “documenta fifteen,” new allegations fueled the anti-Semitism debate surrounding the show, which had been smoldering for months. The director of the “Anne Frank Education Center”, Meron Mendel, called on those responsible for the world art exhibition in Kassel on Monday to remove a contribution by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi because of anti-Semitic motifs. The Israeli embassy in Berlin was also outraged, and there were even calls for his resignation. The banner was finally covered on Monday evening after the massive criticism.

Due to a depiction of figures that enable anti-Semitic readings, the collective, together with the management and the artistic direction, “decided to cover up the work in question and to install an explanation,” the documenta announced on Monday evening. Among other things, a soldier with a pig’s face can be seen on the large-scale banner on Friedrichsplatz. He wears a scarf with a Star of David and a helmet with the inscription “Mossad” – the name for Israel’s foreign intelligence service.

Mendel told the German press agency (dpa):

“This is a clear crossing of borders. These pictures leave absolutely no room for interpretation. This is clear anti-Semitic agitation.”

According to the educator, the work must be covered immediately or, at best, removed.

Taring Padi is committed to supporting and respecting diversity, the artist collective said in a documenta announcement.

“Our works do not contain content that aims to portray any population in a negative way.”

Months ago, an alliance in Kassel accused the Indonesian curator collective Ruangrupa of also involving organizations that supported the cultural boycott of Israel or were anti-Semitic. Ruangrupa and the documenta firmly rejected the allegations.

So far, Mendel had backed the documenta in the debate. He said he saw no anti-Semitism there, but criticized the lack of positions by Jewish artists from Israel. Mendel emphasized on Monday that not the entire exhibition should be described as anti-Semitic. He added:

“You have to differentiate there. Something must have gone wrong. But something like that shouldn’t happen.”

Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth also commented on the case. “In my view, this is anti-Semitic imagery,” said the Green politician. And she added:

“I’ll say it again: Human dignity, protection against anti-Semitism as well as against racism and every form of misanthropy are the basis of our coexistence, and this is where artistic freedom finds its limits.”

The documenta must immediately make this clear to the curators and artists and draw “the necessary conclusions”.

“My personal impression is that there is anti-Semitic imagery here,” said the deputy chair of the documenta supervisory board, Hesse’s art minister Angela Dorn (Greens). She therefore immediately contacted the general director of the documenta, Sabine Schormann, with the aim of clarifying the matter as quickly as possible.

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“The illustration on the artwork, which to my current knowledge was only installed on Friedrichsplatz on Saturday, is an anti-Semitic violation that cannot be dismissed out of hand,” said the chairman of the documenta supervisory board, Kassel’s mayor Christian Geselle , With. He asked the management of the show for clarification and to initiate necessary measures.

However, Geselle warned against placing documenta fifteen under general suspicion:

“In the Preview Days, which took place from Wednesday to Friday for trade visitors and the media, no anti-Semitic works of art could be identified beforehand.”

The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, was also outraged. The Council had been criticized from many quarters for its concerns about this year’s documenta. He was even indirectly accused of racism. “However, it doesn’t matter where artists who spread anti-Semitism come from,” emphasized Schuster. Artistic freedom ends where misanthropy begins. “This red line was crossed at the documenta.” Those responsible must now meet their social responsibility and draw conclusions, he demanded.

The Israeli embassy in Berlin stated:

“The elements shown in some exhibits are reminiscent of the propaganda of Goebbels and his henchmen in dark times of German history.”

Not only have all the red lines been crossed, they have been shattered. And further:

“These items should be removed from the exhibition immediately.”

The American Jewish Committee Berlin even demanded the dismissal of the documenta managing director. Schormann should be relieved of her duties immediately, “the openly displayed anti-Semitism should be stopped immediately and the relevant works removed,” explained Director Remko Leemhuis.

The shareholders of the art show – the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse – must now ensure clarity, the managing director of the German Cultural Council, Olaf Zimmermann, demanded, “since the management of documenta fifteen is obviously not willing or able to do this.” The AfD in the state parliament of Hesse even demanded that documenta fifteen be ended.

Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria, was also dismayed by the monumental painting:

“As a member of the Jewish community, but also as a citizen of this country, I am appalled by the sheer hatred of Jews that is shown in Taring Padi’s image.”

Against the background of the debate about the 15th edition of the documenta, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had already emphasized the limits of artistic freedom at the opening of the show on Saturday: “Art can be offensive, it should trigger debates.” Criticism of Israeli policy is allowed. “But where criticism of Israel turns into questioning of its existence, the limit has been crossed,” he said.

The documenta, which has been in Kassel since 1955, is considered the world’s most important exhibition of contemporary art alongside the Venice Biennale. It is only held every five years. The show lasts until September 25th.

more on the subject – Alleged anti-Semitism incident: musician Gil Ofarim charged with false suspicion

(rt de/dpa)

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