After Scandal, Head of Documenta Resigns.
By: Zhihan Jiang
Only 28 days into Documenta’s hundred-day exhibition period, Sabine Schormann, the renowned director general of the contemporary art exhibition, resigned from her post on Saturday.
The crisis began after a piece of antisemitic art called “People’s Justice,” are 60-foot-long banner created by Indonesian collective Taring Padi was placed in an exhibit in Documenta. The banner shows over a hundred individual figures that depict political resistance in a cartoon-like way.
Two of those figures, specifically the man with side-locks and fangs, wearing a hat emblazoned with a Nazi emblem, along with a soldier with a pig’s head, wearing a Star of David neckerchief and a helmet with “Mossad,” the name of Israel’s security service, written on it. These figures caused outrage after they were displayed on social media causing Israel’s embassy in Germany to accuse Documenta of promoting “Goebbels-style propaganda” — a reference to the Nazis’ chief propagandist. The figures were covered with a black cloth and removed soon after they were found.
Even before the exhibition started, Documenta suffered from controversy. In January, a protest group called the Alliance Against Antisemitism Kassel accused Ruangrupa, which curates this year’s Documenta, of supporting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The accusations were quickly picked up by German newspapers and politicians but went uphill soon after the “People’s Justice” crisis. Germany’s Cultural Minister, Claudia Ross said “in my view, this is antisemitic imagery.” Despite Taring Padi and Ruangrupa’s apologies, the controversy did not end.
Documenta artists have admitted a “loss of trust” in the event. Hito Steyerl, one of the most prominent artists in the exhibition, took her work out of the exhibition, complaining in an email to Documenta that she had “no confidence” in the organization’s ability to deal with the situation. She also said in a phone interview that the public outrage stopped people from even paying attention to the art.
“The art is not even secondary — no one talks about it right now,” Ms. Steyerl said. “So many people worked for so much time on this,” she added, “and by not addressing the accusations of antisemitism — both warranted and unwarranted — in a decisive and transparent manner, Documenta has let this debate eclipse everything else.”