Documenta chief quits over anti-Semitic imagery

The Fridericianum during dOCUMENTA
The Fridericianum during Documenta

The general director of Documenta has been forced to resign in the continuing fallout over the use of anti-Semitic imagery in a work. A banner by Indonesian collective Taring Padi featured various caricatures, including racist depictions of Jewish people. The curators of the German exhibition, ruangrupa, later apologised, admitting they ‘collectively failed’, but now following a report by the exhibition’s board, Sabine Schormann has agreed to the termination of her contract. Schormann had headed the organisation since 2018 and is also director of Museum Fridericianum.

First the curators merely covered the painted banner, but then later agreed to its removal. In a statement made prior to her resignation Schormann said: ‘Removing the work from the exhibition against the will of the Artistic Direction and the artists would have been, as a last resort, a significant interference in artistic freedom’. She says the board supported the decision.

The removal was made only after sustained criticism from the press and jewish groups. It was done with the cooperation of ruangrupa and Taring Padi.

‘It is enormously painful – and I would like to express my deepest regret once again – that the People’s Justice banner from Taring Padi featuring anti-Semitic imagery was installed at all. This has also shocked me deeply’, Schormann said.

Prior to the opening of the quinquennial exhibition the curators and various contributors were accused of anti-Semitism due to their criticism of the Israeli government and support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Last week the artist Hito Steyerl demanded that her work be removed from Documenta, saying she had ‘no faith’ in the organisers’ attempts to address antisemitism. Meron Mendel, the head of the Anne Frank Educational Institute, who was serving as an advisor, also resigned. Ruangupa responded to his departure in a statement saying: ‘We respect Prof. Mendel’s – albeit surprising – decision not to become further involved’.

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