Sabine Schormann on July 16 left her post as managing director of Documenta. Her departure followed allegations of anti-Semitism in connection with this year’s iteration of the Kassel, Germany, quinquennial led to what the event’s board characterized in a statement as a loss of trust. Schormann’s exit less than a month into the show’s hundred-day run came at “short notice” but was “mutually agreed” upon by her and the board, which also oversees the Museum Fridericianum. As of July 18, Alexander Fahrenholz has been tapped to take over interim management of Documenta.
Schormann had earlier attempted to distance herself from the contretemps surrounding the discovery that ruangrupa, the Indonesian curatorial collective organizing Documenta 15, had allowed the display of a work containing anti-Semitic imagery. A massive 2002 banner by Indonesian collective Tarang Padi titled People’s Justice and hung in one of Kassel’s main squares was found to contain hateful stereotypical images, including that of a pig labeled as a member of Israel’s secret service, and a depiction of an Orthodox Jewish man sporting fangs and wearing a black derby hat bearing the insignia of the Nazi SS. The work was first covered up and then removed. Both ruangrupa and Tarang Padi apologized for their part in the banner’s inclusion, with ruangrupa’s Ade Darmawan going before Germany’s Bundestag regarding the matter.
The imbroglio related to the display of anti-Semitic work came after months of allegations, first arriving anonymously and then repeated by German media outlets, that ruangrupa were anti-Semitic. These accusations stemmed from the curators’ inclusion of several artists who, alongside Jewish signatories, had condemned Germany’s 2019 anti-BDS Resolution as a “threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech.” The measure labels the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as anti-Semitic and thus illegal, as anti-Semitism is a crime in Germany.
Following a fraught several-month span that saw a Documenta venue vandalized, a series of talks on the subject of artistic freedom canceled, and the display and removal of the Tarang Padi work, Documenta in early July witnessed the departure of key adviser Miron Mendel, head of the Anne Frank Insitute as well as the pulling of work by filmmaker Hito Steyerl, who told the New York Times, “Documenta has let this debate eclipse everything else.”
Documenta’s board, noting that it “considers it essential that everything is done to regain . . . trust,” said that it would assemble a group of experts in the fields of art, anti-Semitism, and post-colonialism to investigate the events that led up to the display of the anti-Semitic work, and to ensure that no others appear in the exhibition, which spans pans thirty-two venues and includes work by 1,500 artists.