Will Political Pressure Dumb Down Exhibitions at the Kunsthaus Graz?

Kunsthaus Graz Courtesy Marion Schneider & Christoph Aistleitner

Siegfried Nagl, the mayor of Graz, Austria, is so concerned with the low number of visitors at the contemporary art museum Kunsthaus Graz, that he suggested to separate it from the cluster of museums Universal Museum Joanneum, where it’s currently located. But Peter Pakesch, the executive and artistic director of the Universal Museum Joanneum, is resisting the Mayor’s efforts, Die Presse reports.

In an unusually direct statement in the Kleine Zeitung, stirring the cultural politics in the city and directly attacking Pakesch, Mayor Nagl stated: “we should no longer leave the Kunsthaus to the Universal Museum Joanneum.”  Nagl calls for a “new impetus and a lot more movement and visitors.”

The Kunsthaus, built in 2003 when Graz was the European Capital of Culture, dominates the city with its striking architecture, designed by Colin Fournier and Peter Cook. There is hardly a tourist who doesn’t photograph it, but they rarely make it inside. In 2013, only 63,000 people visited the institution, three times less then the Kunsthaus in Vienna. But Pakesch insists that the comparison is not fair. He explained in an interview with the Presse, that “in a city like Graz, higher visitor numbers are difficult to reach. We have a completely different tourist profile than Vienna.” For Nagl, the number is simply too low, and he would like the city to take over.

His ideas include announcing programs for one or two years at a time, and opening the museum to private partnerships.  Pakesch retorts that handling cultural policy issues through the media is dangerous. He defends his program and says he would need more budget than the current €700,000 to put on the kind of blockbusters likely to attract the crowds Nagl dreams of.

Joanneum’s blog shows solidarity with Pakesch. Karola Kraus, director of the Vienna Museum of Modern art, calls him a “guarantor of the international connections to the country and in particular to the Graz scene.”

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