International News Digest


There’s a new pressure to perform for the directors of municipal museums in Hamburg. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Till Briegleb reports, the next work contracts will tie the salaries of museum directors to goals set by the city’s cultural authority. Hubertus Gaßner, the director of Hamburg Kunsthalle, is cited as an example. Under the terms of the next work contract beginning in 2011, a full 20 percent of Gaßner’s salary will be withheld unless the director meets the preset goals of the municipal cultural authority. In this case, the goal is to reduce costs. For Gaßner, who calls the renewal an “immoral offer,” the conditions means “that I will get my full salary only if I don’t fill positions that become open, only if I fire people or close parts of the museum.”

The “performance clause” is part of the city’s new museum legislation, which is expected to become law on July 1 and aims at reducing soaring costs and deficits. In 2007, the debt of the city’s museums rose to $16.7 million and is expected to reach $9 million this year. The situation has become so strained that even the municipal tax office is demanding that the directors balance their budgets. According to the new law, the city will relieve the museums’ debt, only if the institutions break even for three years.

As Briegleb notes, the new law is sure to have “disastrous consequences.” “Since the museums can hardly save on fixed costs, like rent and salaries,” writes Briegleb, “they must save where visitors will immediately notice: on exhibitions, marketing, and parallel programs for exhibitions.” In fact, the exhibition “The North,” which is fully planned and was due to begin in 2011 at four Hamburg museums, has been put on ice along with other large exhibition projects in the city. Another problem with the law: Directors will be allowed to organize special exhibitions only if they can prove in the planning stages that they have covered 75 percent of the costs through sponsorship and that the rest of the costs will be covered by ticket sales at the door. As Gaßner notes, it’s next to impossible to establish such a complete financing plan two-to-three years prior to a show’s opening.

It seems that some Hamburg artists are losing patience with the city. As Bild reports in a separate article, the artist Daniel Richter has decided to leave Hamburg due to the city’s cultural politics. Richter, who is moving with his family to Berlin, cites a long list of municipal cultural management problems in Hamburg, “from the theater Schauspielhaus to the Kunsthalle to the decision to close selectively the Kunsthalle or the cultural center Fabrik.” “Berlin, a city that is definitely broke, simply does more interesting, more complex, and more modern museum work.”


Viennese Actionist Otto Muehl has made a formal apology to the victims of abuse that took place in the artist’s Friedrichshof Kommune. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Almuth Spiegler reports, the eighty-five year-old Muehl, who sat in prison from 1991 to 1997 for the rape and abuse of minors living at the commune, did not deliver the apology personally. Instead, his agent Daniele Roussel read a letter from the artist at a press conference shortly before the opening of his exhibition at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. As the report notes, Muehl, who now lives in Portugal, is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Former commune members who are critical of the artist and were present for the press conference were “very happy” with the apology. “That makes things much easier,” said Hans Schroeder-Rozelle. “It was always a problem that he never acknowledged his guilt.” Schroeder-Rozelle is a representative for the group re-port, which has been working against the trivialization of the artist’s guru image ever since a Muehl retrospective was organized at Vienna’s Museum für Angewandte Kunst in 2004. Re-port, which also fights for the rights of victims in Muehl exhibitions, was involved at the Leopold Museum in the choice of works and took out ten in which abuse victims appear.


Judith Butler ruffled more than a few feathers last weekend by refusing the Civil Courage prize at this year’s Christopher Street Day (CSD) in Berlin. As Der Spiegel and Tagesspiegel report, the star American philosopher of queer theory who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, felt that CSD was “too commercial and superficial.” The event organizers and participants, including the Green Party’s head, Renate Künast, who gave the introduction, were surprised when Butler stepped on the stage at the Brandenburg Gate to turn down the award. In her speech, Butler explained that the event was insufficiently addressing problems such as racism and double discrimination as well as the instrumentalization of the gay and lesbian community in Islamophobic, anti-immigration, and nationalist positions. Butler said that she would like the prize to go to several of the city’s community groups––including GLADT (Gays and Lesbians from Turkey), Lesbenberatung-Berlin (the Lesbian Counseling Center Berlin), and Reach Out—which are more politically active.


Two years before the official opening, Documenta is getting off to a green start with the announcement of a tree planting. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Catrin Lorch reports, the tree will grow in Kassel’s Auepark beside a sculpture by the Arte Povera artist Giuseppe Penone. His Idee di Pietra (Ideas of Stone) is a twenty-seven-foot-tall bronze that resembles a tree, albeit with a stone at the crown. In a press release, Documenta 13 curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev explained that the tree planting would take place on the summer solstice. “We are celebrating the beginning of summer and the creative power of art with this moment in the park, the planting of a tree.” The intervention may recall Joseph Beuys’s 7,000 Oaks project. But, according to Lorch, the Documenta 13 team around Christov-Bakargiev stated that the tree planting reflects a different approach: not tying the mega-exhibition down to one single logo but rather always devising new ones.

Jennifer Allen