International News Digest


Architects are descending on the empty spaces in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. As Agence France-Presse reports, eighty-eight architectural teams responded to the call to transform the unused parts of the vast building into an integrated contemporary arts center. The existing Palais de Tokyo Site de Création Contemporaine—which was opened in 2002 under the directorship of Jérôme Sans and Nicolas Bourriaud and has been run by Marc-Olivier Walher since 2006—takes up only eighty-six thousand square feet of the building, while the remaining ninety-seven thousand square feet are to be revamped by 2012. While the French minister of culture launched the call to architects in December, the firms that have entered the competition have not yet been named, although the report notes that “well-known” agencies are among the eighty-eight candidates vying for the contract. A jury will preselect three architectural proposals by mid-March; the winner will be announced this July, and construction will start by the end of this year, with the opening by the beginning of 2012.

While the winning project will “integrate” the existing Palais de Tokyo, it remains unclear whether the architecturally integrated building will be run as one institution or as an institution within another. The report cites Walher as the director of the existing Palais de Tokyo but adds the names of Mark Alizart as the delegated director and Olivier Kaeppelin as the head of the “project” of the Palais de Tokyo. One thing is clear: The Centre Pompidou will not be creating a “Centre Pompidou-Alma” branch inside the building to show contemporary French artists. After much ado, this proposal from the Centre Pompidou president Alain Seban was rejected by the government in May 2009 in favor of Kaeppelin’s project. Seban’s proposal was estimated to cost fifty-six million dollars, while Kaeppelin’s is estimated at twenty-eight million dollars.

“[The Pompidou proposal] risked making the spaces into a layered cake with the Centre Pompidou below and the Site de Création Contemporaine above,” said Kaeppelin, who was the director of the arts delegation Délégation des Arts Plastiques (DAP) within the ministry of culture until January. As the new head of the Palais de Tokyo “project,” Kaeppelin wants to have a space that will open up onto the courtyard and perhaps even the river Seine. The entrance will include an area called “the street” with small cultural businesses, catering, and video games. According to the report, there will also be a large space for monographic exhibitions featuring either contemporary French artists or contemporary artists with a link to the country. Smaller rooms will give “carte blanche” to artists, as well as to critics and to collectors. “Our luck is that our project is not expensive,” says Kaeppelin. Of the estimated twenty-eight-million-dollar cost, nearly half will be provided by the minister of culture, while the rest will come from loans and patrons. While Kaeppelin’s project may be more modest financially and easier in terms of branding with the existing Palais de Tokyo, it seems to be somewhat more ambiguous in terms of administration. Perhaps it’s the DAP-Alma branch of the ministry of culture inside the Palais de Tokyo.


The third edition of Monumenta—a contemporary installation by the French artist Christian Boltanski inside the Grand Palais in Paris—has proved a monumental success, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. During the special exhibition’s run from January 13 to February 21, Boltanski’s work—ambiguously titled Personnes(which literally means “people” but sounds like “no one”)—attracted more than 149,700 visitors, with an average of 4,159 per day. That’s a 5 percent increase over the last edition of Monumenta, when Richard Serra took over the palace with his “Promenande” of towering steel sculptures. Next up for Monumenta: Anish Kapoor, staged May through June of 2011.


A “swingers” club has moved into an art gallery with the stated aim of helping visitors to a Gustav Klimt exhibition confront their sexual inhibitions, according to BBC News. The Secession, a contemporary art venue in Vienna, has incorporated the club, named Element6, as part of a project by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. Visitors must walk through it to reach one of Klimt’s paintings. A spokesman said Büchel hoped to spark a scandal similar to when Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze was exhibited in 1902. It has already attracted opposition from Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which issued no fewer than six press releases denouncing the project on Monday and Tuesday. “By abusing artistic freedom, the significance of Austria as a country of culture and of Vienna as a cultural capital is being dragged in the mud,” said local Freedom Party politician Gerald Ebinger.

According to Germany’s Bild newspaper, local councilor Ursula Stenzel, who initially approved the installation, subsequently got cold feet. “I signed the approval only under massive protest,” she was quoted as saying. “It was always spoken of as an art project with a nightclub but never as a swingers’ club.” Vienna’s mayor, Michael Haeupl, added that he did not approve of the club, but noted that outraged politicians and newspapers were playing into the artist’s hands.

Klimt’s painting Beethoven Frieze was once considered obscene and pornographic because of the way women’s bodies were depicted, but it is now seen as one of the Austrian artist’s key works. The painting is on display in the basement of the Secession, and visitors must pass through the swingers’ club to reach it. While the club only opens at night, long after the art hall closes, daytime visitors aged eighteen and older pass through its dimly lit rooms, complete with mattresses, bar, and spa bath. The club, which is normally located in another part of town, said its participation “aims to give as many people as possible the opportunity to overcome their inhibitions.”


While Istanbul enjoys the title of European Cultural Capital this year, the city’s most renowned writer—the 2006 Nobel-prize-laureate Orhan Pamuk—has decided to refrain from enjoying any state funding for his own contribution to the event. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Kai Strittmatter reports, Pamuk paid back a substantial sum—the first installment, plus interest, of a $500,000 state subvention—which was slated to cover part of the one-million-dollar construction costs of his “Museum of Innocence” which the author has been building in the city’s Cukurcuma area.

Named after the author’s latest novel, the Museum of Innocence was to open in the summer as the highlight of this year’s festivities in the city. Yet the Istanbul cultural and literary elite did not approve of the state giving away funds to an internationally successful author like Pamuk. “What kind of Nobel-laureate writer needs the support of the state?” asked Özdemir Ince, a popular columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. When the criticism in the media did not abate, Pamuk not only paid back the subvention but also removed his project from the event. While construction at the site continues, there’s no word when the museum will open.

As Strittmatter notes, Pamuk’s pay-back and refusal to participate is not the first problem to dampen the event. While Essen and Pecs are also enjoying the status of European Cultural Capital this year, Istanbul has the largest budget of all three cities at an estimated $250 million. Yet as cultural figures have noted with critique, more than 70 percent of that amount has gone to construction and restoration projects in historical mosques and palaces instead of going to cultural events and art institutions. Moreover, many of these projects were not given to experts but directly to construction firms, which critics claim have close connections to the government. While the director of the 2010 organization committee has changed twice, the cultural advisors for the event have resigned in droves so that the event eventually ended up in the hands of the government. Departing cultural advisors claimed that the organization of the event had suffered from corruption, lack of transparency, and provincialism. In light of such allegations, Pamuk’s move may have been a bid to save the values behind the Museum of Innocence.


While the Winter Olympics in Vancouver closed with much fanfare, the city’s art and cultural institutions may be looking forward to harder times for funding in the future. Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the director of Rotterdam’s Witte de With center Nicolaus Schafhausen offers a short tour of the more than 200 cultural projects and events created for the Winter Olympics, from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s high-tech light installation to Ken Lum’s sculpture Monument for East Vancouver, just one of twenty public sculptures in “Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad” project.

Starting this week, “the bill for this form of self-expression will be paid,” writes Schafhausen, adding that both the city of Vancouver and the surrounding province of British Columbia are broke. Up to 90 percent of cultural and arts funding will be slashed in an effort to save after the splurge of the games. Local politicians already made the dire announcement before the games began when it had become clear that the billion-dollar bill would not be fully covered by sponsors and by the sale of media rights. “Will the new public space sculptures (created for the games) become the gravestones of public cultural facilities?” asks Schafhausen. In the future, cultural funding will apparently go first and foremost to institutions, organizations, and artists who also pay high taxes—a policy that will hurt experimental and non-institutional art forms.

According to Schafhausen, the Olympic flood of funding for arts and culture came with some startling restrictions. Artists were obliged by contract with the Vancouver Olympic Committee (Vanoc) to refrain from criticizing the games. Schafhausen cites the contractual gag clause: “The artist must at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory comments about Vanoc, the Olympic and Para-Olympic Games, the Olympic movement in general, and / or any other private and other sponsors linked with Vanoc.” For some artists, the critique had already evaporated when the funding was distributed. “There is no more critical distance,” said filmmaker and artist Judy Radul, who received two hundred thousand dollars in funding to cover the costs of her multimedia installation World Rehearsal Court. “We have all become part of the neoliberal political system,” said Radul. “When it’s about money, power, and visibility, we’re all good at distorting the facts.”