In the anti-Semitism discussion at the documenta, the head of the Anne Frank educational institution advocates saving the art show. Although he criticizes the point in time at which all works were examined as too late, he wants to play a constructive role in dealing with the scandal.

In the second week of the documenta fifteen, the world art exhibition in Kassel continues to be overshadowed by the anti-Semitism debate. However, Meron Mendel, head of the Anne Frank educational center, has warned against placing the entire show under general suspicion. “Now to present 1,500 artists as anti-Semites is grossly wrong,” he told the “Frankfurter Rundschau” (“FR”, Monday).

A work of art by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi, classified as anti-Semitic, was dismantled after a few days at documenta. Mendel was one of the first to point out its anti-Jewish imagery and demanded the removal of the large banner. Anti-Semitism allegations had been leveled against the Indonesian curating collective Ruangrupa for months.

According to documenta, all other works are now being checked for anti-Semitic content with the help of external experts, including Mendel. A spokeswoman for the Anne Frank educational institution said on Monday that Mendel would be happy to contribute his expertise on Israel-related anti-Semitism and to help with the classification. “His commitment is limited to an advisory role, he is not part of a committee with decision-making powers,” it said. The aim is to engage in discussion and dialogue with the artists and the documenta management. The aim is to convey criticism of anti-Semitism and to professionally accompany a discussion about the boundary between criticism of the actions of the State of Israel and Israel-related anti-Semitism.

The podium on Wednesday, organized jointly with the supporting company documenta gGmbH, is also intended to contribute to dealing with anti-Semitism, especially in relation to the State of Israel, in art and culture – and at documenta fifteen. The focus is on the questions: How did the current anti-Semitism incident come about? What does it take now to prevent the polarized situation from escalating further? How can the – state-sponsored – exhibition of anti-Semitic art be avoided in the future?

Documenta 15: Minister of Education seeks dialogue with Jewish communities

Hesse’s Minister of Art Angela Dorn (Greens) and representatives of the Jewish communities in Hesse want to meet for a discussion this Tuesday evening. The chairman of the state association of Jewish communities in Hesse, Jacob Gutmark, explained: “We agree that anti-Semitic content may not be shown or reproduced and that this picture had to be taken down.” It is important to remain in dialogue with each other about the world view from which the pictures were taken and how anti-Semitism can be effectively combated.

From Dorn’s point of view, the damage that has already occurred “cannot be put into perspective”. The aim of the dialogue now planned must be to create structures “how we can better sensitize cultural institutions to anti-Semitism and its dangers,” said the minister.

Meanwhile, Mendel criticized the timing of the appraisal of the works in the “FR” as “of course completely wrong”. This process would have been necessary during the preparation period, which obviously did not happen. But at the same time he emphasized: “You can be stubborn and say, now you just have to close everything, or, and that’s my attitude, be constructive and save this documenta in the interests of everyone involved.”

The situation is very toxic and explosive

In the worst case, works could be removed or artists unloaded, Mendel explained – and at the same time underlined: “We don’t want to play the censor, but try to consider the different perspectives and talk to the artists. And in the best case find an amicable solution.” The documenta did not answer a question about the specific procedure and status of the test by Monday afternoon.

Mendel doesn’t think it makes sense to stop the show, but he doesn’t rule it out either. “That would probably not be in the interest of the Central Council of Jews, not in the interest of the public, the artists. But who knows what else will happen.” He also said in the “FR”: “There are a lot of demands for his resignation in all directions. This is of course a very toxic and explosive situation.”

According to Mendel, Ruangrupa sees “a willingness to reflect on their own position”. The curatorial collective apologized last week for the anti-Semitic motives. Nevertheless, there is still a dissent: “For me, the depiction of Jews as bloodsuckers, as vampires or as carriers of SS runes on every continent and in every country on this globe is anti-Semitic.”

Documenta debate in the German Bundestag

If Ruangrupa is of the opinion that such a work can continue to be shown in Jakarta, then there is a fundamental difference that needs to be negotiated. The general director of documenta, Sabine Schormann, had previously stated that the work was apparently an innocuous image in Indonesia. “Even if that seems incomprehensible to us, especially since anti-Semitism is also growing outside of Germany.”

A podium discussion on the subject of “anti-Semitism in art,” in which Mendel will also take part, is intended to kick off a series of reappraisal of the allegations. The Anne Frank educational center and documenta gGmbH invite you to the exchange this Wednesday in Kassel. In addition to Mendel, Hortensia Völckers, artistic director and board member of the German Federal Cultural Foundation, and Hesse’s Minister of the Arts, Angela Dorn (Greens), are also expected.

In the coming week, the allegations of anti-Semitism against the exhibition will also concern the German Bundestag. According to the meeting schedule, the agenda for July 7th is to discuss a motion by the CDU/CSU parliamentary group entitled “Provide consistent answers to the anti-Semitism scandal at documenta”.