Although there are numerous demands for his resignation, documenta general director Sabine Schormann wants to hold on to her position. Meanwhile, the curatorial collective Ruangrupa apologizes for the anti-Semitic depictions after sustained criticism.
The Director General of documenta fifteen, Sabine Schormann, does not want to resign despite increasing pressure because of the anti-Semitism scandal at the documenta. “I take my task as it was given to me responsibly and still believe in this documenta,” said Schormann on Thursday in Kassel. Ultimately, however, the decision lies in the hands of the responsible persons and committees. “In such a situation, nothing can be ruled out.”
First of all, however, it must be a matter of working through the processes and “bringing the ship back on course,” she emphasized. “And in heavy seas, a captain doesn’t disembark. That’s how I see my role at this point, I’m responsible for organizing the exhibition and I’ve initiated further measures.” So she asked the curator collective Ruangrupa for a statement.
That followed in the evening. Ruangrupa apologized. “We all failed to detect the anti-Semitic figures in the work,” the collective wrote on the documenta fifteen website. “It is our fault. We apologize for the disappointment, shame, frustration, betrayal and shock we have caused to viewers.”
“As we now fully understand, this imagery seamlessly ties into the most horrifying episode in German history, in which Jewish people were attacked and murdered on an unprecedented scale,” Ruangrupa wrote about the work. “We take this opportunity to educate ourselves on the gruesome past and present of anti-Semitism and are shocked that this character has made it into the work in question.” The collective emphasized: “We are here to stay and determined to keep this exhibition open against all odds.”
Ruangrupa thanked for the “constructive criticism and solidarity”, but also emphasized that it sometimes did not feel treated fairly: “We have the feeling that many of the allegations were made against us without prior open exchange and mutual learning became.” It wants to continue the “dialogue with those who have honestly supported us, believed in us”. “We would like to continue to engage in dialogue with the public, visitors and local grassroots initiatives that speak to our work.”
On Tuesday, a work of art by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi that was classified as anti-Semitic was dismantled after a few days at the documenta. Previously, there had been anti-Semitism allegations against Ruangrupa for months.
Schorman emphasized again that it is not the task of the management to check and approve the works in advance. “That is the core task of the artistic direction.” In view of the abundance of material, Ruangrupa “unfortunately could not look at every picture with a magnifying glass, although this was assured with regard to the sensitive topic of anti-Semitism”. As the managing director responsible for documenta GmbH, she too was shocked that, despite all the assurances in advance, this “horrible mistake” had happened.
Schormann also emphasized again that the events would be processed and that there would now be a “precise and careful” examination of the other works for critical content, also with the help of external experts. She also reiterated the desire of all those responsible for an open and constructive dialogue on racism and anti-Semitism. She had previously announced a series of talks on this. There should also be a “meeting point” at Friedrichsplatz in kassel give – with the Anne Frank educational center and other civil society actors. The work was set up on Friedrichsplatz before it was wrapped up and finally dismantled on Tuesday.
Despite the examination of German history that took place, Ruangrupa did not perceive the motives as anti-Semitic. “In Indonesia this is apparently an innocuous image,” said Schormann, “even if it seems incomprehensible to us, especially since anti-Semitism is also growing outside of Germany”. Should there be more anti-Semitic content, it would be uninstalled like the controversial banner. In critical cases, the work must be discussed. However, it is not appropriate to place the entire documenta under general suspicion.
Regarding the plan of Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth to give the federal government more influence on the documenta in the future, Schormann said: “In any case, it is good for an exhibition that has global aspirations if there is corresponding national expertise in the supervisory bodies.” Whether this is carried out by the federal government or other experts is of secondary importance. “But support from this side is certainly positive.”
Roth had also emphasized that the responsibilities between the management and the curators as well as the chairman of the supervisory board and the committees had to be clearly clarified. “The responsibilities are clear,” said Schormann. “Nevertheless, we now have to work out in detail with Ruangrupa how it could happen that agreements and tasks, which are also contractually defined between the artistic direction and the management, were not complied with.”
Schormann emphasized that the collective does not see itself as a curator in the traditional sense. “They don’t want to take on the role of the determinant, they want to give them freedom.” That is what is radical and new about Ruangrupa’s artistic concept. This results in a process that is very difficult to control in its entirety, but which on the other hand has also led to wonderful results at this documenta. “I hope that this documenta will continue as cheerful, lively and thought-provoking as it appears to most visitors in view of the overall impression.”
Will there be a documenta 16? “I assume and hope so, of course,” said Schormann. “Although one will certainly have to talk in advance about the framework conditions, and I don’t just mean specifically in relation to the documenta, in view of these increasingly acute cultural issues, in which form one can bring about international cultural exchange.” Regulating everything in advance by means of quotas certainly cannot be the way to go.