Federal government demands consequences: First resignation after the Documenta scandal

The chairman of the Documenta Forum is resigning after his controversial comments on the suspended work of art at the Documenta.

Federal government demands consequences: First resignation after the Documenta scandal

The chairman of the Documenta Forum is resigning after his controversial comments on the suspended work of art at the Documenta. The general director of the exhibition, meanwhile, announces an investigation for "further critical works". She herself refuses to resign.

After an interview, the Documenta Forum distanced itself from its previous chairman. Jörg Sperling then resigned with immediate effect. In an interview with the German Press Agency, he had previously criticized the fact that Taring Padi's work of art, which was perceived as anti-Semitic, was taken down at the Kassel art exhibition "due to political pressure". "A free world has to endure that," said Sperling. The Documenta Forum "expressly regrets" Sperling's statements and distanced itself from his statements.

The interview had not been coordinated with the other board members of the association. "These and all other statements in the interview only reflect the personal, unauthorized opinion of Jörg Sperling," it said. The other members of the board considered "image representations in the manner of the 'Stürmer' absolutely unacceptable," said the forum. According to the Documenta Forum, it is committed "to helping to secure the framework conditions for the Documenta as the international and independent exhibition of contemporary art and to protect the image and reputation of the Documenta".

Jörg Sperling confirmed his resignation communicated by the forum. "I still stand by what I said," he said. He personally received a lot of positive feedback. He was "not unhappy" about his departure, just as little as he was about the debate it triggered: "It sharpens the positions."

Documenta Director General Sabine Schormann is sticking to her position despite numerous calls for her resignation. "I take my job as it was given to me responsibly and still believe in this documenta," said Schormann in Kassel. Ultimately, however, the decision lies in the hands of the responsible persons and committees. "In a situation like this, 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 when the sea is heavy, a captain doesn't disembark. That's how I see my role at this point, I'm responsible for organizing the exhibition and have initiated further measures."

Schormann announced a systematic examination of the art exhibition for "further critical works". "Ruangrupa will also have to do justice to its curatorial task," she told the "Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine". The Indonesian collective Ruangrupa curates the Documenta Fifteen. The group is now supported by recognized experts such as Meron Mendel from the Anne Frank educational center in Frankfurt. "It is not the task of the management to inspect and approve all works in advance," said Schormann. "That would contradict the purpose of the Documenta." It is therefore also not possible to submit the art to an expert committee for approval in advance, for example. This is a core task of the artistic direction.

The curating collective apologized in a written statement for the anti-Semitic depictions. "We all failed to discover the anti-Semitic figures in the work," writes Ruangrupa on the Documenta website. "It's our fault. We apologize for the disappointment, shame, frustration, betrayal and shock we have caused to viewers."

Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth called for consequences for the structure of the art exhibition. Basically, the federal government wants more influence on the Documenta. The five-point plan is about processing and consequences. "The Documenta management and the curatorial collective must completely explain how it was possible for a clearly anti-Semitic picture to be hung in the first place," it says. "They also have to ensure that no other anti-Semitic works are exhibited at the Documenta."

"The responsibilities between the management and the curators in particular as well as the chairman of the supervisory board and the committees must be clearly clarified and consequences must be drawn from this," it says. Concrete demands for withdrawal are not made. The withdrawal of the federal government from the supervisory board in 2018 while maintaining federal funding is described as a "serious mistake". That should change again. "In the future, financial support from the federal government should therefore be linked to direct integration into the structures of the documenta."

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