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PRINT January 2005

International News

funding cuts in Holland

LONG RENOWNED AS THE LAND OF TOLERANCE, the Netherlands seems to have had a change of heart in recent months. Newscasts from the area have shown mosques and churches torched following the murder of Theo van Gogh. This vociferous provocateur—notorious for both anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic remarks—was killed by an Islamic extremist after making Submission: Part I (2004), a film about the oppression of Muslim women, with the feminist politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

For many, the fact that this multicultural collaboration resulted in a deadly clash has served only to substantiate the anti-immigration platform of slain politician Pim Fortuyn. With his critique of Islam, Fortuyn succeeded in shifting the political focus from economics to order: Whoever lives in Holland, Muslim or other, should follow Dutch cultural values. But what is Dutch culture? And how does one fix on distinct values in a country famed for openness? Moreover, what culture should the government fund with public money when the very notion of the public is crumbling?

State Secretary for Education, Culture, and Science Medy van der Laan seems to have offered some hints with her latest round of budget cuts. The good news is that while initially projected at 19 million euros in 2002, these amounted to only 9 million, from a total national cultural budget of 685 million. The bad news is that the institutions that lost the most are the ones with the highest international profiles; in other words, those that veer away from exclusively supporting Dutch nationals. On the recommendation of the Raad voor Cultuur, an independent advisory board made up of peers from the field, van der Laan announced reductions for De Appel—whose exhibition program is 80 percent international—and its prestigious curatorial program, which launched the careers of Åsa Nacking, Adam Szymczyk, Tobias Berger, and Luca Cerizza. Also hit were the Rijksakademie and the open academy alternative de Ateliers, where Ceal Floyer and Georg Herold are currently lecturing along with Dutch art stars Marijke van Warmerdam and Willem de Rooij. The uproar was so great—from protest letters to parliamentary debates—that van der Laan finally relented. A decision about the discontinuation of de Ateliers’ federal funding has been postponed for two years while De Appel’s cuts were reduced from 25 percent to 10 percent. The Rijksakademie—whose alumni include Thomas Demand, Georgina Starr, Bojan Sarcevic and Bjarne Melgaard—was not so lucky.

Most troubling was the council’s advice to end the total operating budget for BüroFriedrich in Berlin, an exhibition and event platform (funded since its inception by the Dutch government) that breaks with the cold-war model of the national cultural center. “I wanted to use Berlin’s popularity to bring together cultural producers, whatever their origin,” says Waling Boers, who started the space in 1997 with projects like “Places to Stay,” featuring work by Aernout Mik, Carsten Höller, Viktor & Rolf, and Martin Creed. “BüroFriedrich doesn’t have any significant value for the position of Dutch contemporary art in Germany,” said a spokesperson for the council. Yet artists and curators seem to view BüroFriedrich’s diversity as a sign of its credibility. “Of course, I became known with my recent contribution to the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Biennale,” says Erik van Lieshout. “But the invitation from Boers—to make a work for BüroFriedrich’s project at the first Frieze Art Fair—was great for my international profile.” Despite statements of support from Kasper König, Suzanne Cotter, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and others, van der Laan stuck with the council’s decision, leaving BüroFriedrich’s future anything but bright.

While the federal budget cuts reflect a shift away from a mix of cultures—what De Appel director Saskia Bos calls “our best cultural export”—local scenes are also experiencing a change in policy. Atelier van Lieshout’s “free state” AVL-Ville, founded at the Rotterdam harbor in 2001, was forced to close before the year was out by a deluge of government inspectors. At the city’s exhibition center Witte de With, curator Catherine David, unlike her predecessors, did not see her contract renewed and will be heading off to Berlin’s Wissenschaftskolleg. Both David and former Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen director Chris Dercon were branded “elitist” for failing to communicate their ideas to the public. “The Netherlands are now confronted with a kind of highly reductive inward looking,” says Dercon, who now heads Munich’s Haus der Kunst. “The opinions of outsiders are at best merely neglected.”

Kees Weeda, the former Rotterdam cultural administrator who recently joined the Raad voor Cultuur, sees a major shift underway in the role of art, most famously heralded in the late ’80s as smeermiddel (lubricant) for the economy by the then-minister of culture Eelco Brinkman. “We have gone through many models of culture to legitimate arts funding—beauty, well-being, quality, economics,” says Weeda. “Now, there is a question about art serving multiculturalism and education, but maybe we should stop asking art to contribute something and try to understand the value of art itself.” In an era when making a film can lead to murder—and culture is becoming a call to order, if not an ethnographic practice of language, religion, and mores—affirming the autonomy of art might just lead to its extinction.

Berlin-based critic Jennifer Allen is a regular reviewer for Artforum.