New Antisemitic Find at Documenta Show Leaves Critics 'Speechless'

A month after a controversial banner accused of antisemitism was removed, a visitor called attention to another art piece displaying antisemtic tropes and refuting the legitimacy of the state of Israel

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A pro-Israel protestor wears a kippah during a demonstration outside the Museum Fridericianum as the 'Documenta Fifteen' art fair takes place in Kassel, Germany, in June.
A pro-Israel protestor wears a kippah during a demonstration outside the Museum Fridericianum as the 'Documenta Fifteen' art fair takes place in Kassel, Germany, in June.Credit: WOLFGANG RATTAY/ REUTERS

The German art exhibition Documenta Fifteen, long dogged by allegations of showcasing antisemitic art, came under fire on Thursday after yet another inflammatory piece was revealed amid its exhibits.

After a banner showing antisemitic stereotypes caused an uproar and was taken down in late June, a visitor complained this week that drawings in a 1988 brochure from Algiers — part of a display about the struggle of women in Algeria — are similarly problematic.

The artwork that was taken down in late June.

The drawings show antisemitic stereotypes and refute the legitimacy of the nation of Israel, according to the Antisemitism Research and Information organization RIAS Hessen.

Meron Mendel, chief of the Anne Frank Educational Center, told DPA that he is "speechless" that such artwork was on display at Documenta, while his team was running an information campaign on antisemitic imagery just outside the venue. Mendel added that he was shocked that he was not informed of the complaint, even though he was an advisor to the exhibition at the time.

A new panel of experts is being set up to handle the accusations of antisemitism at the exhibition. Mendel called on the curators to take the works down until the new panel has a chance to examine them.

Politicians from across the political spectrum also criticized the display. Notably, members of the liberal Free Democrat party (FDP) – part of the ruling federal coalition – called for the exhibition to be closed down until the allegations and all of the artworks have been thoroughly examined. Documenta has thus far refused to conduct such an examination.

"Despite numerous warnings and indications, Documenta did not prevent antisemitic works being displayed," said German politician Frank Müller-Rosentritt of the FDP.

Müller-Rosentritt called for government funding for Documenta to be put on hold pending a thorough investigation.

The general secretary of the FDP party, Bijan Djir-Sarai, called for the exhibition to be shut down altogether until the artworks are examined.

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

Moreover, the city of Kassel and the province of Hesse, where the exhibition takes place, issued a statement criticizing Documenta for deciding internally that the imagery was not antisemitic, instead of calling on external expert opinion. They went on to demand that the drawings in question are not to be displayed "until they have been appropriately contextualized."

Even though the drawings were not an exhibited artwork so much as archive material, "responsible curation is important given the antisemitic imagery, and, at the least, it requires an appropriate contextualization," the statement said.

German Culture Minister Claudia Roth did not go as far as to call for the the exhibiton to be shut down or for the withholding of its public funding, but did express support for the removal of the artwork in question.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, also criticized the leadership of the exhibition.

"Either no one at Documenta is able to spot antisemitism, or no one is prepared to stop it," he told the German Bild newspaper.

He also criticized the new head of Documenta for his alleged reluctance in appointing a special advisor on the issue of antisemitism.

The former head of Documenta, Sabine Schormann, resigned in mid-July due to allegations of antisemitism.

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