Documenta Commission resigns: Paralyzing polarization

The search committee for the artistic direction of Documenta 2027 has resigned. This is also due to anti-Semitic statements made by a member.

After the regular end of documenta 15, the columns of the Fridericianum will be painted over Photo: Uwe Zucchi/dpa/picture alliance

Since the Hamas pogrom on October 7th, the cultural scene has been torn and polarized. This is also shown by the latest report on the upcoming Documenta 2027. After the anti-Semitism scandal of its last edition in 2022, a politically responsible management should actually be found for the international art show in the future.

But this process has to stop for now. The entire six-member search committee for the 2027 artistic director has resigned. The documenta and Museum Fridericianum gGmbH announced this in a press release on Thursday evening.

The background shows how divided the cultural sector is reacting to the war in the Middle East: One commission member, the Israeli artist and philosopher Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, had left the committee days before: “The art world as we imagined it has collapsed and fragmented,” she wrote in a letter addressed to the Documenta management and the other commission members in the wake of the massacre of October 7, 2023 in Israel.

“Innocent civilians suffered and died, and my heart weeps for every death on all sides. Every life is precious.” What, Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger asked, could art bring “in our dark times”?

Letter signed by the Israel boycott movement BDS

As initially The mirror Lichtenberg published parts of Ettinger’s letter, it became known at the same time that another commission member, the Indian cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskoté, had in the past signed a letter from the Israel boycott movement BDS.

There were completely different words in it: In 2019, there was talk of Zionism as a “racist ideology,” which would result in “ethnic cleansing,” and a country in which non-Jews would have fewer rights in a “settlement-colonialist apartheid state.” Hoskoté defended himself: When making the BDS declaration, he opposed Hindu nationalism.

However, Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth (the Greens) described the BDS letter from 2019 as clearly anti-Semitic and threatened to withdraw federal funding. But Hoskoté did not want to distance himself from the letter and announced his resignation: “The last few days are among the most deeply shocking days in my life,” he wrote to Andreas Hoffmann, the managing director of the documenta and Museum Fridericianum gGmbH.

Under the impression of such polarization, the four remaining commission members have now “decided that they no longer want to take part in the identification process”. This was announced on Thursday by the author, curator and art critic Simon Njami, who lives in Paris, the painter Gong Yan, who lives in Shanghai, the exhibition organizer Kathrin Rhomberg, who teaches in Vienna, and the international curator Maria Ines Rodriguez. The management will now propose to the supervisory board “to completely revamp the search process for the ‘documenta 16’”.

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