Enraged Christians Sue Museo Reina Sofía Director

The director and museum are accused of "anti-Catholic" activities.

Manuel Borja-Villel, director of Museo Reina SofíaPhoto via: El País
Manuel Borja-Villel, director of Museo Reina Sofía
Photo via: El País

Manuel Borja-Villel isn’t out of trouble just yet. Accused by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers of promoting “anti-Catholic” activities (see “Angry Christians Demand Resignation of Museo Reina Sofía Director”), the director of the Museo Reina Sofía held a meeting with his opponents yesterday.

But it doesn’t seem to have gone too well. Still incensed by the presentation of the artwork Cajita de fósforos (Little Matchbox, 2005) by the collective Mujeres Públicas─which features the sentence “the only Church that illuminates is the one that burns”─the association has now filed a lawsuit against Manuel Borja-Villel, reports La Vanguardia. It demands the removal of the “insulting” works in the exhibition “Un saber más útil” (Really Useful Knowledge) and the resignation of Borja-Villel.

The controversy has taken national proportions. A petition requesting the removal of Cajita de fósforos and the rest of the works by Mujeres Públicas in the show (and protesting against the use of public money to fund exhibitions that “invite church-burning”) has gathered a staggering 39,239 signatures in just a week. Another petition, which has gathered 8,792 names, demands Borja-Villel’s dismissal.

To complicate matters further, yesterday, according to El Confidencial, an anonymous group of Museo Reina Sofía workers sent a letter out to 30 patrons of the museum, disagreeing with Borja-Villel’s political and ideological stance, which they see as a “dogma that must be followed if one wants to avoid reprisals”. In the letter, they also wondered “what would have happened if, instead of showing an artwork that incited to burn churches, the museum would have included an artwork that promoted the burning of Mosques, Synagogues, gay minorities, feminists, or different ethnicities?”

Detail of the piece Cajita de Cerillas (Little Matchbox)(2005) by the collective Mujeres PúblicasPhoto via: El Confidencial

Detail of the piece Cajita de Cerillas (Little Matchbox) (2005) by the collective Mujeres Públicas
Photo via: El Confidencial

The international museum community has voiced its support of Borja-Villel. Last weekend, the CIMAM (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art) launched a petition backing the director, which has gathered 1,950 signatures so far. The museum network L’Internationale—formed by six European museums: MG+MSUM, Ljubljana; MACBA, Barcelona; M HKA, Antwerp; SALT, Istanbul and Ankara; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; and Museo Reina Sofía—also joined the Borja-Villel support camp.

In statement released yesterday, L’Internationale declared: “To claim that the work Cajita de fósforos and, by extension, the Museo Reina Sofía, incites the burning of churches is to simplify the meaning and context of the work […] L’Internationale believes that a democratic society should expect and require that its public museums are not merely vehicles for the legitimization and reproduction of established discourses and views of past and present power.”

artnet News contacted the museum’s press office yesterday afternoon, inquiring about the outcome of the meeting. The museum’s head of communication said the institution would not make any more public statements, and that it stood by what had been said in its latest press release last Thursday, whereby the museum refused to censor any form of artistic expression, although it apologized for having offended certain parties.

The exhibition is still open and the controversial Cajita de fósforos still on show. But it seems like there is an open war between different sectors of Spanish society and now, between different groups inside the museum, as well.


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