Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

An art space in Kassel, Germany, preparing an exhibition by Palestinian collective The Question of Funding that is part of the larger forthcoming Documenta 15 was vandalized on May 27. The interior walls of WH22 were damaged with fire extinguishers and spray-painted with slogans including “187” and “Peralta.” Organizers say they believe the former phrase refers to the California penal code section covering murder and the latter to far-right-wing Spanish politician Isabelle Peralta, who has in the past encouraged violence against Islam.

Indonesian curatorial collective ruangrupa, which is overseeing the quinquennial this year, swiftly issued a statement, saying, “We consider the vandalist acts as a politically motivated threat  . . . as an attack on all of us.” The organizers further expressed a wish “for a working atmosphere where acts of violence towards the artists’ persons, venues, and artworks cannot be tolerated.”

The assault on the space comes as ruangrupa finds itself embroiled in unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism in relation to its inclusion of artists and collectives who signed, alongside a number of Jewish signatories, an open letter arguing that the German Parliament’s 2019 BDS Resolution, which casts the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel as anti-Semitic, “is a threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech.” Ruangrupa has strongly denied the allegations, which were first launched in January by a little-known organization called the Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel and then, despite factual inaccuracies, circulated by the German media. The traction supplied by this repetition resulted in more well-known organizations such as the Central Council of Jews in Germany publicly reiterating the accusations and pressuring Claudia Roth, Germany’s state minister for culture and media, on the matter. ruangrupa attempted to stage a series of conversations ahead of Documenta’s June 18 launch to address the allegations, but canceled them after a number of participants dropped out. At that juncture, the organizers decided they would let the exhibition speak for itself.

“To be clear: no antisemitic statements of any kind have been made in the context of Documenta 15,” said ruangrupa in an open letter released following the cancellation. “We strongly reject these accusations and refuse to accept bad-faith attempts to delegitimize artists and preventively censor them on the basis of their ethnic heritage and presumed political positions.” 

Christian Gesselle, Kassel’s mayor, condemned the vandalism in a statement. “Having discussions about Documenta 15 is one thing,” he noted, “but intimidating artists by committing crimes goes far beyond the pale and damages the image of the city of Kassel as a place of artistic freedom and host to artists from all over the world. Here, all those involved should become aware of their responsibility and stand up for a common coexistence.”

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