Jews outraged as yet another antisemitic image is discovered at leading German art festival

Documenta festival mired in scandal over antisemitic displays.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

Yet another antisemitic artwork has been identified at the Documenta festival of contemporary art in Germany, leading to renewed calls from Jewish activists for the festival’s organizers to face the consequences of their alleged neglect.

Since announcing in January that ruangrupa — an Indonesian artists collective — would be curating the 15th edition of the festival, held in the city of Kassel every five years, Documenta has been immersed in a series of scandals around antisemitism relating to ruangrupa’s endorsement of the anti-Zionist BDS campaign targeting Israel as well as the presence of antisemitic iconography in several works on display.

On Tuesday, Jewish activists independently inspecting the exhibition for examples of antisemitic tropes discovered a triptych displaying a classic antisemitic caricature that had been hastily covered with adhesive tape.

The artists behind this work, a separate Indonesian collective known as Taring Padi, were also responsible for a mural that sparked outrage when the festival opened in June, as it featured images of a fanged Orthodox Jew wearing a fedora hat embossed with the letters “SS,” and an Israeli soldier with the face of a pig and a helmet marked with the word “Mossad.”

The triptych highlighted on Tuesday contained an image of a craftily-smiling man with a long nose proffering bags of cash to skeptical onlookers. When it was originally mounted, the image showed the Jewish caricature wearing a kippa — however, the activists who inspected the artwork on Tuesday realized that the kippa had been covered over by a strip of black tape.

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“At least one openly antisemitic depiction of the Taring Padi group was pasted over,” tweeted the activists from the German-Israel Friendship Society (DIG). “You can see the caricature of a greedy, long-nosed Jew, which is known from Nazi publications. Taring Padi must be immediately excluded from the Documenta!”

The group also accused Documenta’s management team of quietly covering up the offending image in the apparent hope that it would not be noticed.

“Obviously, one is also aware of one’s own antisemitism, otherwise one would not, after all, cover the work quietly and secretly,” Lasse Schauder, a spokesperson for DIG, told the Welt news outlet.

Scahuder’s colleague, Constantin Gans, added that it was “incomprehensible that those responsible at Documenta think that the problem is solved by masking a kippa.”

A spokesperson for the festival noted the latest scandal over the triptych but offered no further comment, Welt reported.

Documenta’s management team had already been thrown into crisis by the successive antisemitism controversies over the campaign to boycott Israel and the Tarang Padi artworks, as well as the display of images by a Palestinian artist comparing Gaza with the Nazi bombing of the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, and a brochure produced by a group of Algerian women artists that contained antisemitic caricatures of Israeli soldiers. While the festival’s director, Sabine Schormann, was compelled to resign at the end of July, her interim replacement, Alexander Farenholtz, has been accused by members of the Jewish community of being even less responsive than his predecessor.

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Earlier this month, an open letter authored by the Jewish Values Initiative, an advocacy group, charged Farenholtz with contributing “to the normalization of antisemitic thought patterns in Germany…It is this normalization, through which hatred of Jews is simply accepted, that gives us, Jewish people in Germany, deep, real fears.”

Separately on Tuesday, a member of the experts group commissioned last month to review the show for antisemitic works noted with concern that many visitors to the festival have “very little knowledge about antisemitism and lack the skills to recognize antisemitism at all.”

Speaking to the Standard news outlet, Julia Alfandari — educational director of the Frankfurt-based Anne Frank Educational Institute — remarked that the experience of the festival proved that antisemitism was “anchored” among the educated German middle class.

“If educated citizens come to our stand and express crude antisemitic conspiracy theories as a matter of course, then that must alarm us all,” Alfandari said on Tuesday.

The institute’s executive director, Meron Mendel, was also a member of the experts’ commission, but later resigned, expressing frustration with the slow response of the Documenta management team to the antisemitism concerns.

The Documenta festival is widely regarded as one of the most important showcases for contemporary art alongside the Venice Biennale. Known as the “museum of 100 days” — the length of each festival — the first show was mounted in 1955 by its founder, Arnold Bode.