Art-World Figures Accuse the Bauhaus Foundation of Caving In to Threats From Germany’s Right-Wing Groups

Prominent members of the art world have signed on to an open letter that condemns the Bauhaus for submitting to fears over right-wing mobilization against the foundation.

Bauhaus building in Dessau. Tadashi Okochi © Pen Magazine, 2010, Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

The Bauhaus Dessau, once the home of Germany’s most famous art school, has been accused of caving in to pressure from far-right groups. More than 100 prominent curators, artists, and other art-world figures have signed an open letter condemning the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s decision to cancel an anti-right-wing punk group’s performance on the grounds that the institution was “apolitical.”

The foundation has “done serious damage to democracy and cultural life in Germany, Europe, and beyond,” states the open letter, which was published on the online journal e-flux and signed by Daniel Birnbaum, the outgoing director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the distinguished German curator Kasper König, as well as artists Hito Steyerl, Anne Imhof, and Douglas Gordon, among others. The letter, which is addressed to the foundation’s director and Germany’s culture minister, states that the decision to cancel the show was made following demands by the center-right CDU and nationalist AfD party, as well as extreme right groups.

The punk group at the center of the controversy is Feine Sahne Fischfilet (translated: fine cream fish fillet), who are known to be active campaigners against radicalism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. The group was due play a concert at the historic Bauhaus in Dessau on November 6.

The decision to pull the show was announced by the foundation last Thursday, October 18. According to the press statement, “politically extreme positions, whether from the right, left or otherwise, find no platform at the Bauhaus Dessau.” The statement noted how, in March 2017, more than 120 neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists had marched in front of the building, which is a Unesco world heritage site and under strict protection laws. The foundation decided that it did not wish to again become a “venue for political agitation and aggression.”

Claudia Perren, the director of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. Britta Pedersen/AFP/Getty Images.

Critics say that the Bauhaus Dessau’s decision at such a politically fraught moment in Germany plays into the hands of right-wing groups. The Dessau region, which is in the former East Germany, has seen a rapid growth in support of right-wing nationalists. There were demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in the streets of Chemnitz after a German-Cuban citizen was murdered in late August. Two people, a Syrian national and an Iraqi national, are suspects in the case.

The timing of the negative publicity is less than ideal for the Bauhaus. The renowned institution has begun worldwide celebrations of its centenary in 2019. Already this fall, international exhibitions focused on its cultural impact have opened in Russia and Brazil.

Following an outcry in the German media, the foundation defended the decision while sounding a note of regret. Its director, Claudia Perren, told the German newspaper Die Zeit, that its decision had nothing to do with the band (she admits to never listening to their music), but was due to fear of the rising tides of anger in the far right. “We heard of a mobilization of right-wing radicals in connection with this concert. We did not want to offer the right-wing radicals a platform in front of the Bauhaus.”

Critics of the Bauhaus Dessau’s decision write in the open letter that the institution seems to be “forgetful of history.” They argue that it is far from an apolitical body, especially considering it was closed down in the 1930s by the Nazi party who deemed their work degenerate.

“The consequence of this logic would be to prohibit everything that provokes right-wing radicals. Such a measure endangers the political culture of Europe.” Read the rest of the open letter here.

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