Major German Art Show Opens Amid Accusations of Antisemitism Over Alleged Support for BDS

With this year's show tackling issues of colonialism, the curators were accused of inviting organizations who support a boycott of Israel because of the country's treatment of Palestinians, weeks after the exhibition space of participating Palestinian artists was vandalized

A pro-Palestinian protestor holds a placard outside the Museum Fridericianum during the 'Documenta Fifteen' art fair in Kassel, Germany, on Saturday.
A pro-Palestinian protestor holds a placard outside the Museum Fridericianum during the 'Documenta Fifteen' art fair in Kassel, Germany, on Saturday.Credit: WOLFGANG RATTAY/ REUTERS

Germany's president has appealed to the organizers of this year's iteration of the internationally-renowned documenta art show to do more to tackle antisemitism over accusations that several artists and collectives involved with the show support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Diverstment and Sanctions movement.

The show, which takes place every five years in the German city of Kassel and is considered a major event in the international art calendar, is curated this year by the Indonesian group Ruangrupa. The group was initially accused back in January by the Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel of inviting organizations who support the BDS movement, including a Palestinian group named The Question of Funding.

Vandalism at documenta
Vandalism at documenta.
Vandalism at documenta
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Vandalism at documenta

Speaking Saturday at the show's official opening to the public, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said "there are limits” to what artists can do when they address political issues.

“As justified as some criticism of Israeli policies, such as the building of settlements, is, recognizing Israeli statehood means recognizing the dignity and security of the modern Jewish community,” he said.

Visitors walk at the documenta hall during the press preview of the documenta 15, the world's most significant exhibition of contemporary art, in Kassel, Germany, on Wednesday.Credit: Martin Meissner /AP

“As Germany's president, I say for my country: recognizing Israel is the basis and condition for debate here,” he added.

Steinmeier's comments come mere weeks after the ad-hoc gallery where The Question of Funding was meant to exhibit as part of documenta was vandalized with hate speech. Phrases graffitied onto the walls included "PERALTA", claimed by many observers to be a reference to Isabel Medina Peralta, the leader of a Spanish far-right youth group who has faced charges for incitement to violence against Muslims.

Ruangrupa called the vandalism a “politically motivated threat."

A placard of the documenta fifteen contemporary art exhibition at the Fridericianum Museum in Kassel, central Germany, on Thursday.Credit: INA FASSBENDER - AFP

Steinmeir called on documenta organizers on Saturday not to outsource their responsibility to the Indonesian curators, but instead to take on the role of mediators and “create appropriate structures" for debate.

Ruangrupa's curatorial direction has turned the spotlight on artists from the global South rather than Europe or the United States, with exhibits laying bare aesthetic and historical investigations into colonialism.

"Documenta promises to be radical, from who is invited to the art, to the venues," its director Sabine Schormann told reporters.

About 1 million people are expected to visit the fifteenth incarnation of documenta this year, which runs for 100 days.

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