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Following Controversy over Exhibition on Oil, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Names New Director

After director Ralf Beil’s abrupt departure from the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg on December 14 following an internal dispute with the museum’s board, the institution appointed Andreas Beitin, who has served as the head of the Ludwig Forum for International Art in Aachen since February 2016, as its next director.

Beitin, an art historian who holds a doctorate in philosophy, will take the helm of the museum on April 1, 2019. Commenting on his new post, he declared: “For many years, I have followed the programming of the Kunstmuseum with great interest—and I am thrilled by the possibilities to create exhibitions there.”

The established curator previously worked in various capacities at the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, and won the Justus Beer Prize for curators in 2017. He also curated the Ludwig Forum exhibition “Flashes of the Future: The Art of the ’68ers or The Power of the Powerless,” which was named Exhibition of the Year by the German division of the International Association of Art Critics.

Beitin’s appointment was announced days after the museum unceremoniously ousted Beil one year before his contract expired. The former head told that on Wednesday, December 13 the institution’s lawyers approached him about mutually terminating his contract and giving up his intellectual property rights to the upcoming exhibitions he had planned. “I was wiped out of my museum within one day,” Beil said.

The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg did not provide a reason for supplanting Beil, and the move was viewed as unexpected by many in the German art world. The museum seems to be in good standing—its finances are stable, its visitor numbers are up, and it recently received high praise from the media for several of its exhibitions, including “Robert Lebeck, 1968” and “Facing India” (both 2018).

However, in an email Beil sent to the press the night before he was expected to clear out his desk, he wrote: “Artistic freedom at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg apparently no longer exists.” The statement has led German media to speculate that he was released from his duties over his programming. 

Beil has also come to suspect that the controversy erupted over his planned exhibition “Oil—Beauty and Horror in the Petrol Age.” The show may have been viewed as problematic by the Volkswagen Art Foundation, the sole sponsor of the museum. The head of the museum’s board, Hans Dieter Pötsch, is also the head of Volkswagen’s board.

Beil told that there have been some attempts to influence the curatorial program in the past. Previously, a board member asked him to organize a show of work by Chinese artists, since China is the biggest market for Volkswagen today. However, for the exhibition on oil, the museum head said that he had stressed to the board that the show was “not about activism, but about great art and deep insights of cultural history” from the beginning.

Commenting on his predicament, Beil said: “We are living in a world with ever diminishing ethic values. I guess we just have to stay close to ourselves and our convictions—what else would make sense?” Until Beitin takes the helm of the museum, Otmar Böhmer, the managing director and board member of the Volkswagen Art Foundation, will serve as interim director.