Opening of Prestigious Documenta Art Show in Germany Marred by Antisemitism Controversy

The documenta fifteen art show in Kassel, Germany, June 15, 2022. Photo: AP / Martin Meissner.

June 21, 2022

The opening of the prestigious “documenta fifteen” art show in Kassel, Germany, this week was accompanied by controversy over the participation of groups that support the boycott of Israel.

Documenta, held quinquennially, is being curated this year by Ruangrupa, an Indonesian collective with numerous members who have engaged in anti-Israel activism, including the signing of a document titled “A Letter Against Apartheid.”

Ruangrupa is being accused of inviting organizations from developing countries that support the BDS movement, which the German Parliament designated as antisemitic in 2019.

Around half of documenta’s funding comes from the German government, raising the question of whether a violation of the law has occurred.

At the show’s opening on Saturday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier referred to the controversy, saying, “As Germany’s president I say for my country: Recognizing Israel is the basis and condition for debate here.”

“Recognizing Israeli statehood means recognizing the dignity and security of the modern Jewish community,” he noted.

Steinmeier urged documenta organizers to “create appropriate structures” for debate.

One of the exhibit’s works shows a pig wearing a helmet emblazoned with the word “Mossad.”

In the same work, a man is depicted with sidelocks often associated with Orthodox Jews, fangs, and bloodshot eyes. He is also wearing a black hat with the SS insignia.

Josef Schuster — president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany — commented, “Artistic freedom ends where xenophobia begins.”

The Israeli Embassy in Berlin stated, “We are disgusted by the antisemitic elements publicly displayed at the Documenta 15 exhibition. Elements being portrayed in certain exhibits are reminiscent of propaganda used by Goebbels and his goons during darker times in German history.”

“All red lines have not only been crossed — they have been shattered,” it added.