Chris Dercon Steps Down as Director of Berlin’s Radical Volksbühne Theatre After Brief, Turbulent Tenure

The divisive director out after less than six months by mutual consent

Chris Dercon has departed from Berlin’s Volksbühne, after less than six months as director. The news was confirmed by the City of Berlin with the decision taken on Friday morning in mutual agreement between Dercon and Berlin’s Senator for Culture and Europe Dr. Klaus Lederer. The statement issued by the City of Berlin said that ‘the Volksbühne needs a fresh start immediately’ after Dercon’s concept ‘did not work out as hoped’. Lederer also cited and criticised the history of personal assaults against Dercon since he moved to Berlin in 2016, calling them ‘undignified’.

Dercon has faced a turbulent time since his appointment at the Volksbühne was announced in 2015. The storied institution in east Berlin, known for its championing of experimental theatre, was founded in 1890 with a mission to cater to the working-classes. Dercon has faced numerous open letters and petitions calling for him to go – faeces was left outside the door to his home in August 2017. 

Volksbühne, Berlin. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Volksbühne’s replacement of long-time director Frank Castorf with Dercon, the former director of London’s Tate Modern and known for his talents as a fundraiser, has been taken by some as a move towards gentrifying both the radical theatre and the city. The theatre’s staff published an open letter in 2016 stating: ‘This change stands for historical levelling of identity. The artistic processing of conflicts in society is to be suppressed in favour of a globally consensual culture with uniform patterns of performance and marketing.’ 

Previous to his appointment at Tate Modern, Belgian-born Chris Dercon was director of Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2003–10) and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands (1996–2003). He was a co-founding director of Witte de With, Rotterdam (1990–95).

Read Jan Verwoert writing on Dercon's reception in Berlin in his piece on the frictions between the creative worker and the boardroom and Jörg Heiser on how the vitriol directed against Dercon is indicative of how curators have become the the art world's villains du jour.

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