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CONFLICTS DEVELOP AT VIENNA'S MUSEUMSQUARTIER

Just one month after opening, Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier (www.mqw.at) is already embroiled in controversy. Last week, the directors of several institutions in the new cultural complex—Architektur Zentrum Wien, basis wien, Depot Kunst und Diskussion, Kunsthalle Wien, Public Netbase t0, Tanzquartier Wien, Wiener Festwochen, and the ZOOM Kindermuseum—held a press conference to air their grievances against Wolfgang Waldner, head of the company responsible for developing and managing the MuseumsQuartier. Among their complaints: Lack of communication and poor management have created a "poisoned climate.”

But the press conference was not merely an exercise in administrative arm wrestling. It rapidly turned into a protest when it was revealed that Public Netbase t0 (www.t0.or.at) had been served an eviction notice. The public institute for new communication technologies, which won the Prix Ars Electronica for its World Wide Web server in 1995, has been the target of an intimidation campaign since February 2000, when Jörg Haider’s Freedom party gained power at the federal level. According to Public Netbase’s founding director, Konrad Becker, Waldner seems determined “to continue a year-long pattern of oppression and harassment,” despite the fact that Public Netbase t0 provides Internet services for MuseumsQuartier at nonprofit rates.

Public Netbase t0 hosts several Web projects critical of the right-wing party on its servers. In addition to losing federal funding, the institute was subject to an audit, which effectively brought its activities to a halt. Becker was also asked to vacate the MuseumsQuartier for renovations without a contract that would guarantee the institute’s right to return to the site, let alone adequate space for its activities. Waldner has promised to merge Public Netbase t0, as well as basis wien and Depot, with project space Quartier 21, but they would be subject to review every two years, with no guarantee that their leases would be renewed.

Kunsthalle Wien director Gerald Matt called the eviction notice “a disgrace.” He, too, faced problems with Waldner in planning celebrations for the June 11 opening of “Eine barocke Party: Augenblicke des Welttheaters in der zeitgenössische Kunst” (A baroque party: moments of theatrum mundi in contemporary art), the Kunsthalle’s first major exhibition at its new location. Citing safety reasons, Waldner denied a request for permission to hold a fire-art performance by Peter Frank in the open courtyard of the MuseumsQuartier. It ended up taking place inside the Kunsthalle, most likely at greater risk to the audience. Matt called the ban “a territorial occupation,” and requested more liberal access to the courtyard. He also emphasized the growing conflict of interest in Waldner’s role as both a facility manager and an organizer of events.

Several protests have taken place since the press conference in support of Public Netbase t0 in which some have called for Waldner to resign. Becker, Matt, and the other disgruntled tenants have also have the support of Viennese municipal officials—the Social Democrats have a majority in the government—but the city has little power to intervene, since it owns only 25 percent of the MuseumsQuartier against the federal government’s 75-percent ownership. Nevertheless, so far, they are still seeking a working dialogue with Waldner, knowing that his departure could be a mixed blessing. The federal government—a coalition between the Freedom party and the conservative People’s party—would end up choosing his successor. “If that happens,” says Becker, “it’s lights out for MuseumsQuartier.”

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