Germany’s Kunsthalle Düsseldorf Fears for its Independence

Do independent institutions have a future?

For over half a century, the independence of Germany’s internationally renowned Kunsthalle Düsseldorf has been a hallmark of the institution. But that city’s mayor now aims to change course, reports German magazine Monopol.

Mayor Thomas Geisel is planning to use the resignation of Museum Kunstpalast director Beat Wismer—he steps down in March—to restructure the city’s cultural institutions and place the Kunsthalle and its partner institution, Kunst im Tunnel (KiT), both state-funded, under the control of the state-run Museum Kunstpalast. Under this scheme, the mayor would install a general director to oversee all three institutions. According to the city, the restructuring would substantially reduce administrative and personnel costs.

Launched in 1967, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf has mounted recent exhibitions of artists including Tomma Abts, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Ferdinand Kriwet, and Chris Martin, among others. Director Gregor Jansen oversees a team of three curators, consisting of Anna Brohm, Jasmina Merz, and Anna Lena Seiser, along with assistant curator Dana Bergmann.

Unsurprisingly, the plans have outraged the German art world, provoking artists Helmut Schweizer and Andrea Knobloch and gallerist Stefan Ohem to write an open letter to mayor Thomas Geisel, criticizing the city’s plans.

“In times of scarce resources, especially within the cultural sector, all publicly funded cultural institutions, be it opera, theater, ballet, museums, or other projects, are time and again put under pressure to justify their place, importance, and contribution toward public services for citizens. But at the moment in which the politicians narrow the debate it places culture under the realm of thought and action where it is judged on its usefulness rather than on its values,” the trio writes. “To make [Kunsthalle Düsseldorf] and its partner institution KiT part of the city’s ‘museum landscape’ and subordinate it to a general director installed in the Museum Kunstpalast appears to be an absurd cultural policy.”

They conclude, “The signatories expect the Düsseldorf city government to maintain the independence of the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and KiT for the future viability as an indispensable forum for the discussion of contemporary art in the midst of a dynamic civil society. This ‘yes’ to independence would also be a commitment to the cultural city of Düsseldorf and in the spirit of Gerhard Baums, ‘for the future viability of society.'”

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