German artist withdraws from major exhibit over antisemitism scandal

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Visitors watch a multimedia installation by German arftist Hito Steyerl at the Museum of Natural History Ottoneum ahead of the Documenta 15 contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany, on June 17, 2022.
Anton Roland LAUB / AFPVisitors watch a multimedia installation by German arftist Hito Steyerl at the Museum of Natural History Ottoneum ahead of the Documenta 15 contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany, on June 17, 2022.

Steyerl slammed the art show over 'antisemitic content displayed at its central location'

Prominent German conceptual and new media artist Hito Steyerl withdrew from Documenta 15, an influential art show held in Kassel, central Germany, amid an ongoing antisemitism scandal. 

Steyerl announced her decision to pull her artworks from Documenta 15 in a letter to the organizers obtained by Die Zeit. She condemned the art show for not taking enough control over “antisemitic content displayed at Documenta 15 at its central location.” 

“I have no faith in the organization’s ability to mediate and translate complexity,” the artist was quoted as saying, referring to “repeated refusal to facilitate a sustained and structurally anchored inclusive debate around the exhibition.”

She also cited “unsafe and underpaid working conditions for some of the staff” among her reasons to withdraw from the show.  

Steyerl’s departure came shortly after Meron Mendel, the director of the Anne Frank Educational Institution in Frankfurt, resigned from his consulting role on Documenta 15.

“There is a lot of good at Documenta, but when dealing with the current antisemitism scandal, I miss the serious will to work through the events and enter into an honest dialogue,” he was quoted as saying by Der Spiegel. 

Documenta came under heavy criticism over displaying a 60-foot banner work by Indonesian art group Taring Padi that was accused of containing “antisemitic caricature.” The mural, which was later removed, depicted a pig wearing a helmet blazoned "Mossad,” referring to Israel’s intelligence agency. The same work pictured a man with sidelocks often associated with Orthodox Jews, fangs and bloodshot eyes, wearing a black hat with the SS-insignia.

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Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also criticized the art show, saying it was striking that no Jewish artist from Israel was represented at Documenta 15.

Last week, the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa, which curated this year’s edition of the quinquennial, told the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, during a hearing that there was “no boycott” of Israeli or Jewish artists.

Even before the opening of the show in June, the group came under fire for including the collective called The Question of Funding over its links to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that was branded antisemitic by the German parliament in 2019.

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