The 2022 documenta art exhibition will take place from June 18 to September 25 in the central German city of Kassel, bringing in artists from around the world who address today’s global challenges in their work — from climate change and digitization to social upheaval and political radicalization.
Yet for months, the exhibition, which happens only once every five years, has been surrounded by controversy.
The first accusation was made in January: In an anonymous blog post, a alliance against antisemitism criticized ruangrupa, the Indonesian curatorial team behind the 15th edition of documenta.
The writers of the post claimed a Palestinian artist collective involved in the exhibition was antisemitic, because the artists supported the cultural boycott of Israel.
Ruangrupa, documenta and Museum Fridericianum gGmbH, the nonprofit which supports the show, have rejected the accusations.
The documenta supervisory board, and even Claudia Roth of the Green Party, Germany’s state minister for culture and media, also backed the documenta team.
Documenta aims to address contemporary issues, including the current war in Ukraine
Following the accusations, Ruangrupa
had released a statement in which they rejected encroachments on artistic freedom, yet spoke out in favor of political neutrality and declared their willingness to engage in dialogue.
Reacting to the cancellation of a forum that would have allowed such a conversation to take place, they have now published on May 9 an open letter in the daily Berliner Zeitung, in which they elaborate on the issue.
They stated in their piece that the “character assassination” and “defamation campaigns” of Palestinian artists is “based on rumors” that have “racist effects” on these people. “The accusation of ‘BDS proximity,’ from which the accusation of ‘Israel-related antisemitism’ is derived, primarily affects people from the Global South and especially from the Middle East, and leads to exclusions and disqualifications,” ruangrupa wrote.
It should be consensus that the people affected by these rumors and accusations should be allowed to be part of the discussion, they added.
Panel discussions scrapped
A forum was scheduled in May to discuss the “fundamental right of artistic freedom in the face of antisemitism, racism and Islamophobia” and three online discussions were planned for May 8, 15 and 22, under the title “We need to talk!”
Yet in a surprising twist, the events were canceled just days before they were to take place.
“Documenta has decided, in consultation with various participants, to suspend the series of events planned for May 8, 15 and 22, 2022, ‘We need to talk! Art – Freedom – Solidarity,'” the event’s organizers announced in a statement on the show’s website on May 4.
Documenta will “open the exhibition and first let it speak for itself, as a basis for continuing the discussion in a productive manner,” said organizers.
“At this moment, documenta’s intended goal for the series of talks — to open a multi-perspective dialogue beyond institutional frameworks in the run-up to documenta 15 — is unfortunately not realizable.”
Nevertheless, wrote the organization, it is very important “that this thread of conversation not be cut off.”
The group wrote that documenta aims to “build on the existing approach to the discussion” during the months the show will run in Kassel. It seems that the organizers are responding to concerns that were once again brought up in the public sphere in recent days.
Claudia Roth, Germany’s state minister for culture and media, approved of the initial decision to hold discussions
Not everyone happy with discussions
The choice of guests invited to take part in the discussions triggered controversy, as suggested by a letter from the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, to Roth.
Schuster did not make his letter public, and DW’s inquiries to see it went unanswered. But German news agency dpa reported key passages. According to Schuster, the only way to combat antisemitism is “clear avowals and resolute political action at every level of politics, art, culture and society.”
It remains unclear whether or not a representative for the Central Council of Jews wanted to sit at the discussion table, or whether Schuster disagreed with the selection of experts.
One of the discussions, for example, addressed, according to the documenta announcement, differences in the “German and international understanding of antisemitism and racism,” while another dealt with “the phenomenon of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian racism.” Those involved in the events came from a variety of fields.
Josef Schuster, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, wrote a letter expressing his dissatisfaction with documenta
The Berlin Islam scholar Schirin Amir-Moazami was to take part, as was the Israeli author Omri Boehm and the antisemitism researcher Marina Chernivsky, who is also an adviser to the federal government’s commissioner for Jewish life in Germany.
The culture minister for the state of Hesse, Angela Dorn, who is also deputy chair of the documenta supervisory board, had initially welcomed the expert panel, thanks to its “voices from different fields such as Holocaust and antisemitism research, colonialism and racism research, land rights studies, Indigenous studies, law, media, and art and culture.” Negotiating the topic of artistic freedom in this case, she said, is good. The importance and defense of Israel’s right to exist, Dorn said, is inextricably linked to Germany’s historical responsibility.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Hercules Kassel’s landmark is the Hercules monument. Over 70 meters tall, it looks down on the city from the landscape park Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe. Charles I, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, had the monument erected 300 years ago.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2013. From May to October, the Baroque water features are displayed on Wednesdays, Sundays and all holidays.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Wilhelmshöhe Palace Wilhelmshöhe Palace is also in the Bergpark. In it you can view a collection of antiquities, the Old Masters picture gallery and temporary exhibitions.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Parthenon of Books The Parthenon of Books is the most conspicuous work in the current Documenta. It just as large as the original on the Acropolis in Athens. It’s filled with books that are or have been banned somewhere in the world.
10 reasons to visit Kassel 7000 Oaks For the 1982 Documenta, Joseph Beuys had 7000 slabs of basalt piled up on Friedrichsplatz square. People were to take a slab away and plant an oak next to it. It took five years in all, but he transformed the cityscape more any other Documenta artist.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Man walking to the sky “Man walking to the sky” is the name of the sculpture that artist Jonathan Borofsky brought to Documenta 9 in 1992. It has remained in Kassel and become a symbol of its revival. During the division of Germany, the city lay on the inner-German border. Now it is again in the middle of Germany.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Pickaxe The Pickaxe is also a Documenta relic. Its creator Claes Oldenburg claimed Hercules had thrown it from Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe down to the banks of the River Fulda. So by drawing on Kassel’s old landmark, he created a new one for the city.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Treppenstraße Kassel was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War. It was quickly rebuilt in the 1950s was in the rather drab style of that time. But with the Treppenstrasse it gave Kassel Germany’s first pedestrian street.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Museum of Sepulchral Culture When this museum opened in 1992 it was the first of its kind in the world. To this day its aim is to still people’s fears of death and dying. The core of the museum is the permanent exhibition, which shows how people deal with death.
10 reasons to visit Kassel Grimm World The city of Kassel has also devoted a museum to its most famous residents. In Kassel and the surrounding area, the brothers Grimm collected many of the folk tales that brought them to world renown. Grimm World has been telling their story since 2015. Author: Christian Hoffmann
This article was originally written in German.
Update: This article, first published on May 4, 2022, was updated following the publication of ruangrupa’s open letter.