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Hamburg Symposium on the Documenta Fifteen: Escape to half-hearted apologies

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Depictions of anti-Semitism found their way into our society as part of the Documenta Fifteen… I condemn that in the strongest possible terms.” With these words, the Green Senator for Science, Katharina Fegebank, opened the two-day symposium at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts. The Documenta did not manage to address these questions, she judged sharply. Now they started in Hamburg to work up the drama – and also failed.

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University President Martin Köttering spoke of a “society-wide shock event”. However, the academy in particular was heavily criticized for the appointment of Ruangrupa members Reza Afisina and Iswanto Hartono from the curator collective Guest Professors. According to Köttering, the exchange during the symposium should deal with the personal injuries suffered by Jews.

An artistic-scientific institution is the right place for this. Nora Sternfeld, as a professor at the Academy, and Meron Mendel, director of the Frankfurt educational institution Anne Frank, had invited almost twenty speakers to the conference they had designed, mostly from the university sector.

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In his keynote speech, delivered with professorial verve, the Israeli sociologist Natan Sznaider drew a line from the exclusion of Jews as citizens in the Age of Enlightenment to the concept of ambiguity tolerance, which the psychoanalyst Else Frenkel-Brunswik developed in the 1930s. Sznaider advocated allowing for ambiguities – also in order to sound out the potential for a future Documenta. However, he himself doubts whether this can work: “We live in disenchanted times in which only oppositions and no truths anymore count.”

In the first panel, questions of the continuity of anti-Semitism in the art field were discussed. Julia Voss, co-curator of the exhibition “Documenta. Politics and Art” in the German Historical Museum, pointed out that the very first Documenta did not exhibit any Jewish artists and instead stylized the anti-Semite Emil Nolde as a victim.

We live in disenchanted times, in which only oppositions and no truths are valid anymore.

Natan Sznaider, sociologist

The Viennese political scientist Oliver Marchart noted a “silent boycott” of Israeli art since Documenta 11. He accused Ruangrupa of never clearly distancing himself from the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign and of having evaded this question with “sophisticated arguments”. to be.

The talk with Ruangrupa member Reza Afisina and Hestu A. Nugroho from the artist collective Taring Padi was eagerly awaited on the second day. Instead of genuinely understanding the outraged reactions to the anti-Semitic imagery on the People’s Justice banner, the two resorted to half-hearted apologies and referred to Indonesian visual culture. The banner was not painted to be anti-Semitic, but it has now been learned that it was perceived as such.

This eloquence provoked violent protests from the audience. HFBK professor Michaela Melián was not satisfied with such excuses either. There is a “global comic and graphic novel culture with racist codes”. And “if you have arrived in Germany a few years before the Documenta, then it is obvious that you can also read this visual language.”

The concluding panel then dealt with the perception of many visitors that there was no art to be seen at all at the Documenta Fifteen. The opinion-loving Leipzig cultural scientist Wolfgang Ullrich countered that the show had developed a new, alternative concept of art.

Margarita Tsomou, curator at Berlin’s Hebbel am Ufer, even spoke of a “collaborative turn” that would permanently change the view of art production. So while the podium hyped the show as a model for the future, Michaela Melián once again expressed doubts. “For me, the Documenta is not the place where we want to try out collectives.”

The partially anti-Semitic imagery at the Documenta Fifteen hurt the feelings of many observers, especially within the Jewish communities. The attempt to come to terms with this, which is now being conducted at the HFBK exclusively within the art bubble, deliberately dispenses with this perspective. The question must therefore be asked why representatives of Jewish organizations were not included.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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