Maram Stern, the vice president of the World Jewish Congress, an international federation of Jewish communities and organizations, condemned this year’s edition of the Kassel art exhibition documenta, which ended in September after a drawn-out controversy over allegations of anti-Semitism.
In an opinion piece published in the German outlet Rheinische Post and first reported by Monopol, Stern described the recently closed quinquennial exhibition as “one of the most serious cases of anti-Semitism in German post-war history.”
The 15th edition of documenta became embroiled in controversy over accusations that the enterprise’s organizers had sanctioned anti-Semitic bias and imagery early this year. The allegations first circulated in January when the exhibition’s participating curators, ruangrupa, a Jakarta-based art collective was accused of being anti-Semitic for its ties to the pro-Palestine BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.
In mid-June, after the exhibition’s opening, a billboard-sized artwork stoked criticism for its use of anti-Semitic imagery. The work, People’s Justice, was created in 2002 by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi and explores violence under the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. It was dismantled after critics called attention to its use of stereotypical depictions of Orthodox Jewish figures and inclusion of Nazi-era imagery. The collective apologized and said the reception towards the banner misinterpreted its “original context.”
In July, Documenta’s director, Sabine Schormann, resigned over the controversy. In an opinion piece published in Politico last month, Stern criticized Schormann’s refusal to accept responsibility for the exhibition’s content, but said he supported inclusion of artists from the global south.
In his commentary, Stern added that Claudia Roth, the German government’s commissioner for culture and the media should have issued an apology for the lack of oversight of the exhibition. Roth had advocated for “artistic freedom” during the debates around documenta.