New Delhi: Days after Mumbai-based author and curator Ranjit Hoskote and Israeli painter Bracha Ettinger resigned from the Finding Committee for the upcoming 16th edition of Documenta in Kassel, Germany, the four remaining members have also stepped down.
The four members, including Paris-based independent curator, lecturer, art critic Simon Njami; Gong Yan of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art; Vienna-based art curator Kathrin Rhomberg; and São Paulo-based curator María Inés Rodríguez, resigned in an open letter addressed to Dr. Andreas Hoffmann, managing director, Documenta and Museum Fridericianum gGmbH on November 16.
Documenta is the world’s most prestigious art exhibition, which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany.
In their letter, the four members said that their decision comes against the backdrop of the resignations of Hoskote and Ettinger.
“The dynamics of the last few days, with their unchallenged media and public discrediting of our colleague Ranjit Hoskote, which forced him to resign from the Finding Committee, make us very doubtful if this prerequisite for any coming edition of Documenta is currently given in Germany. Art requires a critical and multi-perspective examination of its diverse forms and contents to be able to resonate and develop its transformative capacity. Categorical, one-sided reductions and over-simplifications of complex contexts threaten to nip any such examination in the bud,” they wrote in the letter.
Saying that a 2019 letter signed by Hoskote, among others, was “clearly antisemitic”, Germany’s culture minister Claudia Roth threatened to withdraw public funding for the event.
The 2019 letter was published as part of the article in Suddeutsche Zeitung on November 9.
The letter, circulated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) global movement, aimed to exert pressure on Tel Aviv to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories and adhere to human rights laws.
Ettinger’s resignation on November 12 was unrelated to the controversy surrounding Hoskote. ARTnews reported that her decision was prompted by the “dark times” affecting her country, Israel.
In their letter, the four members said that they understand that in view of its past, Germany has “distinct social and political responsibilities.”
“The great sensitivity towards all anti-Semitic tendencies bears eloquent witness to the extent to which the nation has internalised this responsibility. The ongoing fulfilment of this very responsibility deserves the greatest appreciation, especially now, when alarming signs of deep-rooted anti-Semitism are once again making themselves felt around the world.”
“At the same time, however, this awareness of special responsibilities runs the risk of being misused for opinion politics in order to suppress undesirable approaches and their broad and open discussion right from the start. Instead of debate and discussion, over-simplification and prejudgments are thus all too easily substituted,” they said.
In the last edition as well, the exhibition was engulfed in a scandal around its alleged proximity to BDS and a dispute over anti-Semitic iconography.
The four members said in the letter: “It is this emotional and intellectual climate of over-simplification of complex realities and its resulting restrictive limitations, which has been prevalent since documenta15 and especially against the background of the current crises our world is facing, that makes it impossible for us to conceive of a strong and signal exhibition project, and consequently to allow for a responsible continuation of the selection process to determine a curatorial concept for documenta16.”
The Finding Committee, according to the organisers, “has the task of inviting pioneering figures in contemporary art to apply to take on the role of Artistic Direction of documenta 16, and to select the most promising format from the concepts presented. Appointment of the Artistic Direction is targeted for late 2023 / early 2024.”
However, the four members said that against the backdrop of current developments, there is no space for “open exchange of ideas” in Germany.
“In the current circumstances we do not believe that there is a space in Germany for an open exchange of ideas and the development of complex and nuanced artistic approaches that documenta artists and curators deserve. We do not believe that any acceptable conditions can be created in short term and consider it to be disrespectful of documenta’s legacy to simply remain content with the current situation,” the four members’ letter said.
Prior to Hoskote’s resignation on November 12, Ettinger had also stepped down for reasons that she stated were not connected to the accusations levelled against Hoskote but because Israel was enduring “dark times.”