The search committee was set up to ensure that the anti-Semitism scandal of the previous year was not repeated. Now the Documenta itself is in jeopardy. How did that happen?
The resignation of the search committee: The committee, consisting of six art experts, was supposed to deal with the anti-Semitism scandal after Documenta 15. In addition, it should propose a curator or collective for the upcoming edition in 2027 by the beginning of 2024. The Israeli artist Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger resigned at the beginning of November, followed by the Indian art critic Ranjit Hoskoté. He was confronted with accusations of anti-Semitism because he signed a petition entitled “BDS India” in 2019. The campaign calls for a boycott of the State of Israel and Israeli products. At the end of last week, the four remaining members of the search committee resigned.
About the Documenta
Documenta is considered the most important and globally respected exhibition series for contemporary art. It currently takes place every five years in Kassel.
The 15th edition was held from June 18th to September 25th, 2022 and attracted a lot of criticism. The Indonesian artist collective Ruangrupa from Jakarta, Indonesia, was in charge.
The reasons for the scandal: The trigger was once again the conflict in the Middle East. Documenta 15 was already on the verge of being canceled in 2022 because of anti-Semitic works of art. After the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7th, the discourse between the camps came to a head again: on the one hand, the pro-Israel voices, which are sensitive to anti-Semitic tones and everything that questions Israel’s right to exist – on the other others are the pro-Palestinian voices who denounce Israel’s actions in Gaza. The committee cited “the polarized debates” that put their work under pressure as the reason for their resignation.
A culture of debate that has slipped away: “The fundamental problem is that the culture of debate has completely slipped out of our hands,” says Nicole Deitelhoff. The scientist was at the head of the committee. Every word is put on the gold scales and “leads to being put in a corner at a breathtaking speed.” As Carsten Probst, cultural correspondent at Deutschlandfunk, noted to SRF, the reasoning is directed less against the Documenta itself than against the general climate of debate. In this regard, it currently hardly seems possible for the search committee to plan a new Documenta.
How it goes on: After the resignation, the search process should be completely restarted. Traditionally, Documenta takes place every five years, and the next exhibition is planned for 2027. According to managing director Andreas Hoffmann, the question of when is currently not the focus. “It’s about leading Documenta into a good future.” Given the current situation, it will probably be difficult to find new candidates for the search committee. It might be even more difficult to find curators who would dare to undertake such a large-scale project in this climate. According to Carsten Probst, one option would be to cancel the next Documenta entirely or at least postpone it.
This must change in the future: For Carsten Probst, those responsible for Documenta must approach social debates more aggressively than in the last edition. Especially if they want to initiate and lead the debates themselves. But this can only succeed if the debates about the culture of remembrance, the Shoah and the like are also wanted by society as a whole. However, Probst is currently not assuming this. On the contrary: attempts are being made to silence the opposing side. A debate cannot work like that.
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