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Adrian Piper, Everything #2.8, 2003.
Adrian Piper, Everything #2.8, 2003.

Munich’s Haus der Kunst Under Scrutiny

After canceling its Joan Jonas exhibition traveling from Tate London in August, Munich’s Haus der Kunst (HdK) canceled its forthcoming installation of the Adrian Piper retrospective traveling from the Museum of Modern Art, citing “a difficult financial situation stemming from management errors of the past.” Shortly before Christmas, the institution announced that it would present a major exhibition by German artist Markus Lüpertz in their place.

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) last week, Jörg Heiser raised questions about how the institution had funds for the Lüpertz show despite its previous claims of austerity, as well as concerns about the institution’s commercialization and dependence on private art-consultancy firms. Heiser also wrote that the decisions may indicate a return to a pattern of showing “the established figures of the art world, who are above all German men.” Lüpertz is represented by Michael Werner gallery, which represents only men, and most of the works in HdK’s current Jörg Immendorff show are also on loan from the dealer.

The institution informed SZ that it could not move forward with the Jonas and Piper exhibitions because if it received any additional funding the monies would first have to go toward paying off its debts. In order to stage the Lüpertz show, HdK had to secure a sponsor. Walter Smerling, chairman of the controversial private think tank Foundation for Art and Culture Bonn, pledged to finance the exhibition. “If the necessary budget is known,” he wrote in an email cited by Heiser, “we will ask our members and ask for appropriate support.”

Over the years, Smerling’s foundation has been involved in staging shows such as the Kunsthalle Bonn’s Anselm Kiefer exhibition, comprised nearly entirely of work borrowed from the private collection of a client, Hans Grother, for whom Sterling works as a private consultant. This controversy led to the dismissal of Kunsthalle Bonn’s then-director Robert Fleck, which Monopol reports was the decision of Bernhard Spies, the former managing director of the Bonn institution. An exhibition of Lüpertz’s work followed shortly after Spies joined Bonn in 2008, after which a large-scale exhibition of Rosemarie Trockel’s work was canceled without explanation. 

Earlier in 2018, the Bavarian culture ministry appointed Spies, known as an experienced fiscal crisis manager in the German art world, as HdK’s commercial director. Spies’s appointment came weeks after the resignation of director Okwui Enwezor, who, citing health reasons, stepped down from his post in June 2018, three years before the end of his contract. 

“The vacuum is the crisis,” Enwezor told SZ, speaking about HdK’s recent decisions and the power vacuum left in the wake of his resignation and that of chief curator Ulrich Wilmes, who resigned in October 2018. There is no longer any “intellectual direction,” he continued; it has been replaced with “illiberal and non-transparent decisions.”

In a written statement to the German newspaper, Piper said: “I would never have thought that an institution of the rank of the Haus der Kunst would have no scruples about making such an arbitrary decision affecting the public. Mr. Spies’ behaviour towards Okwui, then towards the exhibition of Joan and mine seems to me to be due to a total lack of awareness of the unprofessional impression this leaves on colleagues in the art world. I don’t see how all this can be good for the HdK’s long-term reputation.”