After a month of crisis that has rocked the art world, Sabine Schormann, CEO of renowned contemporary art exhibition Documenta, resigned from her post on Saturday, just 28 days after the exhibition’s 100-day run.
The crisis began after a work of art containing anti-Semitic imagery was found, covered up, and then removed from the exhibition, which is held every five years in Kassel, Germany. The hanging of a piece of art, a huge piece of art with a Jewish caricature, led to a loss of credibility for the event. This is stated in a statement from the Board of Documenta. announcing miss. Shorman’s departure.
The Board “deems it necessary to do everything possible to restore this trust,” the statement said. The statement said the board will convene a panel of experts on art, anti-Semitism and post-colonialism to determine what went wrong and decide if there are any more anti-Semitic images on the show.
Documenta is considered one of the most important events in the art world, rivaled only by the Venice Biennale.
This year’s edition of Documenta, 15th, curator ruangrupa, an Indonesian arts collective with over 1,000 artists, mostly from the south of the world, who host exhibitions and events. One group created a kink-friendly nightclub for visitors; another built a sauna. Many exhibition halls are designed to enable visitors to participate in events and discuss social and political issues, as well as explore the arts.
Siddhartha Mitter, Documenta review for The New York Times, said that “there are possibilities everywhere in this show: ways of exploring the past or sharing in the present that give rise to hope; strategies outside state and capitalist systems; and food for the civic imagination.”
Despite this recognition, Documenta was embroiled in controversy even before it opened. In January, a protest group called the Kassel Alliance Against Anti-Semitism accused ruangrupa and other artists of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. In 2019 the German Parliament declared the movement anti-Semiticstating that it calls into question Israel’s right to exist.
The allegations first appeared on a blog, but were picked up by German newspapers and politicians. In June, the furor reached its peak when another Indonesian art group, Taring Padi, installed a work of art called “People’s Justice” in one of Kassel’s main squares.
About 60 feet long, “People’s Justice”, originally created in 2002, is a political banner featuring cartoonish images of activists fighting under Indonesia’s military rule. Among the many figures, there is one who looks like a Jewish caricature with sidelocks and fangs, wearing a hat with the Nazi “SS” emblem.
The banner also features a pig-headed military figure wearing a neckerchief with a Star of David, and a helmet inscribed with the word “Mossad”, the name of Israel’s security service. (This figure appears next to soldiers identified as members of other intelligence agencies, including the KGB)
This was stated by the German Minister of Culture Claudia Roth. statement at the time that “these are antisemitic images in my opinion” and the banner was criticized by prominent Jewish groups and the Israeli embassy in Germany. The picture was first covered up and then removed, and both Taring Padi and the Ruangrupa apologized, but the controversy did not stop there.
A few days later, Miss. Roth said the festival needed to be explained how the “clearly anti-Semitic picture” was hung in the first place, adding that Documenta needed “fundamental structural reform” if it was to receive funding from the German government in the future.
On the same day, Ms Schormann tried to distance herself from the controversy by saying in news release that she is “not responsible” for the artistic content of “Documents”. The exhibition will be “inspected for further critical work,” the statement said. This task will be led by ruangrupa with the support of Meron Mendel, director of the Anne Frank Education Center in Frankfurt, he said.
These actions also did not end the crisis, especially after Mr. Mendel resigned his role. mr. Mendel said in a phone interview last week, before Ms. Schormann’s resignation, Documenta’s management prevented him from starting work.
“They didn’t even send me half of the artwork to look at,” he said. He added that he had to contact the artists himself to talk about their work, as Documenta initially refused to contact him.
At least one Documenta artist has publicly admitted to losing credibility with the event. July 8, Hito Steyerl, one of the most prominent artists at the show, withdrew her work, saying in an email to Documenta that she was “unsure” of the organization’s ability to handle the scandal. RS. Steyerle said in a phone interview in front of Ms. Schormann’s resignation over the fact that the furore prevented people from paying attention to art.
“Art is not even secondary – no one talks about it now,” she said. Steyerl said.
“So many people have been working on this for so long,” she added, “and by not responding to accusations of anti-Semitism—both well-founded and unfounded—in a forceful and transparent manner, Documenta has allowed this debate to overshadow everything else.”
Documenta said in a statement on Saturday that it will appoint an interim CEO to replace it. Schormann, but it does not specify a timeline for when this will happen.