Documenta 14

Racial Stereotypes Disturb in Remnants of Historical Lore at Documenta

The Black Code.


The Neue Galerie is among Documenta 14’s best venues. It contains terrific artworks, both contemporary and historical, but it also has a gut-wrenching aspect: it includes a number of historical images and objects that attest to racial stereotypes and race-motivated cruelty. Such images can also be found elsewhere in Documenta 14—for instance, in the Museum fur Sepulkralkultur, which has a vitrine containing photographs of two medals made to celebrate the 1906 Easter lynchings in Springfield, Missouri—but the Neue Galerie is home to an especially disquieting array of holdings.

One piece in the collection is a book, published in 1742 and once called the most monstrous legal document of modern times. Behold the text from its title page: The Black Code, or a collection of rules that have been passed so far: regarding government, administration of justice, police, the discipline & trade of Negros in the French colonies and the councils and companies established for these matters.

Other works were made by Ludwig Emil Grimm in the early to mid 19th century and feature similarly galling titles. See them in the captions for the photos below, which also include puppets with exaggerated features made in Germany between 1900 and 1956 and on loan to Documenta from the Stadtmuseum in Munich.

© 2019 ARTnews Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARTnews® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.