Documenta ignores Kassel’s bloody history, artists say
Weapons are still being produced in the city that hosts one of the largest art exhibitions in the world
By Clemens Bomsdorf. Web only
Published online: 13 September 2012
As Documenta wraps up in Kassel this week, a group of artists have come out criticising the organisers of the quinquennial exhibition, saying they have ignored the city’s history as a German weapons manufacturing centre. “Kassel was heavily bombed during World War Two because of its arms production. Today the company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), which has its roots and some production in Kassel, plans to export tanks to Saudi Arabia. We cannot tolerate that,” Philipp Ruch, an artist from the group Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (centre for political beauty) tells The Art Newspaper.
Two weeks before the opening of Documenta, the group launched a website and circulated posters informing people about KMW and offering €25,000 for any information that could lead to the arrests of the company’s owners, though the posters did not mention any specific crimes committed. “We see ourselves in the tradition of Christoph Schlingensief,” Ruch says, referring to the late artist who represented Germany at last year’s Venice Biennale and was known for addressing the most difficult points of Germany’s history in his films.
KMW’s lawyers sent the artist group a declaration to cease and desist, and since then the group has not offered money in return for information. “We are not pacifists who think no tanks should be produced, but the export to dictatorships as Saudi Arabia is unacceptable,” Ruch says.
Germany only recently started selling arms to Saudi Arabia, after prime minister Angela Merkel signed an agreement with its government in July 2011. The deal met with some criticism, as it reversed a long-standing principle set by previous governments that Germany would not export arms to “crisis regions”. Other countries have been selling arms to Saudi Arabia for decades, including the UK, which in May signed a £1.9bn ($3bn) deal to supply 22 Hawk trainer jets, and the US, which in December 2011 signed a $30bn deal to export 84 F-15 fighter jets and other weapons to the country.
The organisers of Documenta declined to comment.
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