Germany’s Far-Right Populist AfD Party Sues documenta Over Financial Irregularities

The suit targets artistic director Adam Szymczyk, CEO Annette Kulenkampff, and the board.

Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany. Photo Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images.

After narrowly averting bankruptcy, documenta’s troubles continue. Last week, the far-right AfD faction of Kassel’s city council brought a lawsuit against the quinquennial for alleged misappropriation of funds and other offenses.

On Wednesday, October 18, Kassel’s parliamentary candidate Manfred Mattis, a trained lawyer, filed the suit at the Kassel prosecutor’s office. The local paper HNA reported that the prosecutor confirmed its receipt.

The suit targets artistic director Adam Szymczyk, CEO Annette Kulenkampff, former board chairman and mayor Christian Geselle, as well as current board chairman and sitting mayor Bertram Hilgen.

Speaking to HNA, the AfD minority leader Michael Werl said documenta’s management team had to be held accountable for numerous irregularities. “Dubious cash transactions, a huge deficit of at least €5.4 million, disproportionate demands of the artistic director, a sloppy board, as well as inadequate separation of the two venues of Kassel and Athens all require an independent investigation by the state prosecutor,” he said. The suit also encompasses flights and the transport of cash to Athens.

AfD has filed the lawsuit in mid-October although the final report of the independet audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers is still ongoing and due to be published in November.

In September, documenta was saved by emergency loan guarantees from its shareholders, the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse, after the quinquennial ran significantly over budget. In a press conference, representatives of the state shareholders admitted that they didn’t yet know where the money was spent as an investigation by an independent auditor was still ongoing. The scandal has set off, in addition to other accusations, a fierce debate over the politicization of documenta and the protection of artistic freedom from political influences.

Ahead of the general elections in Germany in late September, the AfD in Kassel tried to instrumentalize the important international exhibition for political purposes, calling the American-Nigerian artist Olu Oguibea’s work for documenta 14 “ideologically polarizing, deformed art.” The venomous remark recalls the Nazis’ use of the term “degenerate art.”

Following the September elections, the populist anti-immigration and Euroskeptic AfD became the first far-right party to win seats in the German parliament since 1945 after gaining 12.6 percent of the popular vote.

Representatives from documenta were not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.

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