May contain traces of anti-Semitism: The final report on Documenta 15

A file called “final report” lands on the screen. You download what the documenta is sending out in a press release these days. To be more precise, the sender is the supervisory board of the documenta and Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, and the pdf file is, more precisely, the document “Final report. Committee for the scientific monitoring of documenta fifteen.”

Is this really final now?

“Final” is of course not above the report. As is well known, the word in file names indicates that many versions circulated before a “final” one was agreed upon.

Nevertheless, the misunderstanding fits. Because the report is intended to signal that the last word has now been spoken. A council has met and presents its writing, a little like a court. Seven experts assessed the events that led to turbulence, horror and embarrassment during the documenta 15 art exhibition in 2022: An anti-Semitism scandal in Germany attracted worldwide attention.

Four works from documenta 15 refer to anti-Semitic visual codes or convey statements that can be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

From the expert report of the final commission

Five of the seven experts hold professorships: the conflict researcher Nicole Deitelhoff, the art historian Marion Ackermann, the sociologist Julia Bernstein, Peter Jelavich from Johns Hopkins University, and Christoph Möllers, a lawyer at Humboldt University. The scientific coordinator was Cord Schmelzle from the Research Institute for Social Cohesion, and the committee included Marina Chernivsky, head of the Berlin Competence Center for Prevention and Empowerment.

Their report concludes that “four documenta 15 works refer to anti-Semitic visual codes or convey messages that can be interpreted as anti-Semitic.” It is about “People’s Justice”, parts of the “Archives des luttes des femmes en Algérie”, the “Tokyo Reels” and the picture series “Guernica Gaza”. All have been widely discussed publicly and are analyzed here with meticulous care. Other works, too, could be said to contain traces of anti-Semitism.

The panel classifies the reactions of the artistic direction and management as clearly “not appropriate”. They would have “exacerbated the situation”. The committee recognizes resistance on the artistic side, and passivity on the part of the management. The concise 130 pages also contain a constructive catalog with clear recommendations for the institutional reorganization and better control of the documenta.

One passage hypercautiously points to different definitions of “Israel-related anti-Semitism” – a core of the cause. An Indonesian artist collective, ruangrupa, was appointed curator of the documenta, which in turn invited collectives from the “Global South”. Not least due to the trend of postcolonial studies, there is strong anti-Semitic resentment against Israel as the “last colonial state” in regions that were once colonized. This was previously known, as well as the problematic positions of ruangrupa.

Months before documenta 15 there were warnings. But the postcolonial fashion is currently too attractive, especially in the art world and parts of the academic world, also because Jewish victims can be overshadowed by colonial ones, as the historian Steffen Klävers points out in his study “Decolonizing Auschwitz? Comparative-postcolonial approaches in Holocaust research”.

A report on this summer of art in Kassel can hardly be “final”. Because the cause points far beyond Kassel and the documenta. A former president of the Berlin Academy of Arts, Klaus Staeck, chose the statement “Nothing is done” as the leitmotif of his work. This is always the case for this case.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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