Director of Documenta Resigns Due to Antisemitism Scandal
By: Miaomiao Yu
Sabine Schormann, the director general of the contemporary art exhibition Documenta, resigned on Saturday after a month of crisis involving the exhibition of a piece of antisemetic imagery.
The artwork in question was a huge piece that contained Jewish caricatures, and its exhibition led to a loss of trust in the event, Documenta’s board said in a statement announcing Ms. Schormann’s resignation. In the statement, the board also claimed that it will assemble a group of art experts to determine what went wrong and examine the art pieces in the show more closely to prevent any other antisemetic pieces from being displayed.
The Documenta exhibition is held every five years in Kassel, Germany. It is considered one of the art world’s most important events, rivaled only by the Venice Biennale. This year’s Documenta is curated by the ruangrupa, an Indonesian art collective that involves more than 1,000 artists hosting exhibitions and events.
The group installed an artwork named “People’s Justice” in one of Kassel’s main squares. The artwork was 60 feet long, created in 2002, and featured cartoon-like depictions of activists struggling under Indonesia’s military rule. One of the figures appears to be a Jewish caricature, depicting a man with sidelocks and fangs wearing a hat emblazoned with the Nazi “SS” emblem. It also contains a military figure with a pig’s head and wears a Star of David neckerchief and has the word “Mossad,” the name of Israel’s security service, written on its helmet. That figure appears along with soldiers identified as members of other intelligence forces such as the K.G.B.
Claudia Roth, Germany’s culture minister, said that “in my view, this is antisemetic imagery.” The banner was also criticized by prominent Jewish groups and Israel’s Embassy in Germany. It was covered up and removed, and the groups in charge of the event apologized, but the controversy did not end.
Ms. Roth later said that the festival needed to explain how the “clearly antisemetic picture” was displayed in the first place. She added that Documenta needed “fundamental structural reform” in order to receive further funding from the German government.
Ms. Schormann tried to distance herself from the scandal by saying that she was not responsible for the artistic content of Documenta. She added that the exhibition would be “inspected for further critical works” by ruangrupa and Meron Mendel, the director of the Anne Frank Education Center in Frankfurt.
However, Documenta never started the task with Mr. Mendel. “I didn’t even get sent half an artwork to see,” he said.
Hito Steyerl, one of the most prominent artists in Documenta, pulled her work from the exhibition, saying that she had “no confidence” in the organization’s ability to handle the situation. “So many people worked for so much time on this, 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,” she said.
Documenta said in a statement that it will appoint a new director to replace Ms. Schormann, but the time at which this will happen was not given.