Art world heavyweights back embattled Documenta curators in latest allegations
Documenta 15 was besieged by controversy long before it opened in June, and now it’s tangled in yet another row.
Last weekend, a panel convened to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism at the five-year event recommended that a video work consisting of archival pro-Palestinian propaganda clips be removed from the show.
The curators of Documenta, the Indonesian artist collective ruangrupa, immediately pushed back, stating in a open letter that the panel’s report “marks a racist drift in a pernicious structure of censorship”. More than 100 artists, collectives and organizations have signed the letter.
Now another committee – the Search Committee for the Artistic Direction of Documenta 15 – is speaking out in defense of ruangrupa, which it selected to curate the exhibition in 2019. In a statement released today, the committee said “the pressure that the media and politicians have brought to bear on the entire Documenta team has become unbearable.”
“We reject both the poison of anti-Semitism and its current instrumentalization, which is designed to deflect criticism of the 21st century Israeli state and its occupation of Palestinian territory,” the committee continued. “At the same time, we embrace the pluralism of Documenta 15 and the opportunity to hear for the first time such a rich diversity of artistic voices from around the world.”
The statement ends by asking Documenta’s Board of Supervisors to allow the show to “remain open in its entirety” through its scheduled September 25 end date. The eight members of the research committee, including Tate Modern director Frances Morris and German curator Ute Meta Bauer, signed the document.
At the center of this latest debate is Tokyo Reels Film Festivala work by the Ramallah and Brussels-based collective Subversive Film, which Documenta described as a “film program [curated] around the screening of a recently restored film” which highlights “the unrecognized and still undocumented anti-imperialist solidarity between Japan and Palestine”.
The program features footage amassed by Masao Adachi, an experimental filmmaker and former member of the militant communist organization the Japanese Red Army who lived in Lebanon for years. (Three members of the Japanese Red Army were responsible for the 1972 Lod airport terrorist attack outside Tel Aviv that killed 26 people.)
In his recent reportthe “scientific advisory committee” brought together by the shareholders and the supervisory board of Documenta called Tokyo Reels Film Festival “very problematic”. The panel argued that the artwork is “filled with anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist backdrops” that are presented as objective fact, and that the artists’ “uncritical discussion” glorifies “source material terrorism”.
The panel recommended that “immediate action” be taken to remove the Subversive Film program from view. But the Conservatives did not capitulate.
“Ruangrupa, as Art Direction of Documenta 15 has the sole right to decide and does not wish to follow the recommendation to temporarily remove the work Tokyo Reels by Subversive Film from the exhibit,” a Documenta spokesperson said in an email to Artnet News earlier this week.
The Tokyo Reels Film Festival was screened just yesterday, September 14, according to the art diary. Yaqubi added that a final decision on the films will be made later this week.
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