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Director General of Documenta Resigns from Amidst Antisemitism Scandal

By: Yifei Mei

After a month of crisis irritating the art world, Sabine Schormann, the director general of the renowned art exhibition, Documenta, resigned from her post on Saturday, only 28 days into the exhibition’s 100-day run.

The scandal began when an artwork containing anti-Semitic imagery was installed, covered up, and then removed from the exhibition. Antisemitism is hostility against Jews. The exhibit is held every five years in Kassel, Germany.

The installation of the artwork, a huge piece that contained a Jewish caricature, has led to a loss of trust in the exhibition, Documenta’s board said in a statement announcing Schormann’s departure.

The board said in the statement, “the board considers it essential that everything is done to regain that trust. The board will convene a group of experts on art, antisemitism, and post-colonialism to determine what went wrong and decide if there are any further antisemitic images in the show.”

Documenta is considered one of the art world’s most important events, only to be rivaled by the Venice Biennale.

This year is the 15th edition of Documenta, it’s curated by ruangrupa, an Indonesian art collective. It involves over 1,000 artists! One group created a kink-friendly nightclub for visitors. Another group built a sauna. Most of the exhibit’s venues are meant to be places where visitors can participate in events and look at art.

Siddhartha Mitter, reviewing Documenta for the New York Times said, “everywhere in this show are possibilities thrown open: ways of examining the past, or exchanging in the present, that offer grounds for hope; strategies outside the strictures of state and capitalist systems; and fodder for civic imagination.”

Claudia Roth is Germany’s culture minister, said in a statement that “in my view, this is antisemitic imagery.” The imagery was criticized by Jewish groups and Israel’s Embassy in Germany. The artwork was first covered up and then removed. Both Taring Padi and ruangrupa apologized but it didn’t end the controversy.

“So many people worked for so much time on this,” said Hito Steyerl, one of the most prominent artists in the exhibition. “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.”


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