November 15, 2023

Documenta Resignation Letter

Bracha L. Ettinger

November 10, 2023

Dear colleagues,

I hereby formally resign from the Finding Committee of Documenta 16, and hope and wish that you will choose together the best candidate for Documenta 16 Artistic Director.

Recently in two emails to all of you, I asked that we slow down the process. The art world as we imagined it has collapsed and is now fragmented, I wrote, and added: What can art bring to our dark ages? The question of the meaning of being human is tightly related to the meaning of art. Artists are not here to decorate politics. Art’s function is not to aestheticize political ideas (W. Benjamin), I wrote, and then quoted Paul Celan (“the world is gone—I must carry you”), and continued with these lines from the Psalms that express my anguish,

Abyss to abyss call.

And my heart wound-space.

Words and metaphors do not bleed, I wrote, but their effect can cause bleeding.

The situation in the Middle East is tragic from all angles. Innocent civilians suffered and died, and my heart cries for each dead on all sides: Palestinians and Israelis. Every life is precious. I shared with you my incapacity to be effective in the last series of meetings (October 12–13), which took place even though I couldn’t arrive in person, in Germany, because you informed me that my flights were cancelled, and in which I had to participate via Zoom, during 16 hours, paralyzed under rockets, with the details of the massacre committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians, women, and babies, and of the kidnapping of children and babies and civilians, being streamed on my screen during our lunch and coffee breaks, just few days after the massacre by Hamas that began the tragic war.

We have time—I wrote—we can change the procedure, change the timetable, allow sorrow and agony to unfold. We can take time, I suggested.

Time to lament, Kaddish.

Time to lament, Stabat mater dolorosa O quam tristis et afflícta fuit illa benedícta, mater.

Time to pause, think-feel and reorient ourselves towards new visions and think if we can address the dimension of art, I wrote.

The idea to slow down and to delay the next meeting—a session of 16 hours over two days, to select the next Documenta Artistic Director, which I could not personally attend because of the war—was rejected by Andreas, the Managing Director, for different procedural considerations that I of course fully understand.

The future Documenta has been on my mind endlessly during the last seven months. We have all worked hard. Unfortunately, today I feel that I cannot continue to contribute to the process anymore.


Contemporary Art, War & Conflict
Germany, Middle East, Documenta

Bracha L. Ettinger is an Israeli painter, writer, psychoanalyst, and philosopher living and working in Paris and Tel Aviv.


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