Documenta’s Adam Szymczyk hits back at handling of audit, Annette Kulenkampff out
Elsewhere: activists protest AfD with Holocaust Memorial replica; censorship at Kuala Lumpur Biennale; Venice Biennale's record attendance
The beleaguered artistic director of documenta 14, Adam Szymczyk, has hit back at the handling of the independent audit report of the quinquennial exhibition’s 2017 edition. Szymczyk claims that he was excluded from a meeting of the exhibition's board on 15 November at which auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers presented their findings. Two months ago, documenta’s shareholders (the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse) had to pull the company out of bankruptcy by stepping in with emergency loan guarantees. The audit places much of the blame for the exhibition’s EUR€5.4 million deficit on the decision this year to hold a satellite location in Athens. Szymczyk has accused the board of ‘fabricating’ a controversy, describing it as a ‘controlled scandal’. He told Artnet: ‘you can’t study and analyze a complex multipage document with financial details during the same meeting, you should debate it’. Meanwhile the CEO of documenta’s parent company Annette Kulenkampff is stepping down next June, a year before the expiration of her contract. The city of Kassel said her departure was ‘by mutual decision’.
The Venice Biennale closed its 57th edition over the weekend, with record attendance figures: 615,000 visitors over six months (the 2015 edition recorded 500,000 visitors). But the next edition has already sparked controversy over Australia’s participation – major donors to the Australian Council for the Arts are furious over what they regard as their exclusion from the artist selection protest, and have withdrawn support. The council's chairman announced there would no longer be an external commissioner choosing the representative artist, but it would be decided in-house instead, in compliance with the Biennale's new rules over national pavilion commissioners working with their respective governmental organizations. Hamish Balnaves, a donor to the programme, told The Art Newspaper that the new selection process was a ‘bureaucratic raffle’ and along with his father has withdrawn support. Simon Mordant, a former Australian commissioner, has also withdrawn financial support.
The German art collective Centre for Political Beauty have constructed a partial replica of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial outside the home of far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Björn Höcke, after he said that Germans should not focus on war guilt – the senior AfD member had commented in January: ‘Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital'. The activists rented the property next door to his house and set up 24 concrete slabs in the garden overnight. One of the collective’s organizers Philipp Ruch commented: ‘We hope he enjoyes the view every day when he looks out the window.’ They’ve launched a crowdfunder to continue their protest.
Axel Wieder has been named as the new director of Bergen Kunsthall. Wieder is currently director of Index, the Stockholm art foundation, and prior to that he was curator at Bristol’s Arnolfini. He will take up the position in February 2018, succeeding Martin Clark who left in September to take up the post of director at London’s Camden Arts Centre.
Belgian collector Axel Vervoordt is unveiling Kanaal: his major new cultural-residential space in Antwerp. The 55,000-square-metre building will serve as headquarters for the Axel Vervoordt Company, a space for temporary exhibitions by Axel Vervoordt Gallery and a home for his art collection. The complex was originally a malting distillery built in 1857 – the full site opens on Thursday with shows of work by Saburo Murakami and Lucia Bru.
The decision by Düsseldorf authorities to cancel an exhibition about Jewish art dealer Max Stern at the Stadtmuseum (four months before its opening and after three years of preparation), citing current restitution claims, has caused upset among partners and sponsors of the show. The city government claims the show was pulled due to 'current demands for information and restitution in German museums in connection with the Galerie Max Stern', though they have not clarified which claims in particular caused the show's cancellation. After 1935, Stern was not allowed to practise as a dealer and was later forced to sell the inventory of his family gallery at auction, before escaping the country. The exhibition which focused on Stern’s life and career had been scheduled to travel to Israel before ending up in Montreal. In 2002, Concordia and McGill universities in Montreal and Hebrew University in Jerusalem launched the Max Stern Art Restitution Project using funds left from his estate to recover gallery artworks and return them to their rightful owners. However organizers of the Stadtmuseum show say that the exhibition was not aimed at these restitution claims.
In gallery news: Warsaw’s Kasia Michalski Gallery is closing next February, citing general financial and operational pressures that confront mid-tier galleries. New York’s Metro Pictures will represent German artist Judith Hopf; Judith Eisler is joining Casey Kaplan Gallery in New York (she will have her first solo show with the gallery next September) and Marianna Boesky Gallery in New York now represents Archivo Maria Lai – a selection of works from the late Sardinian artist’s archives will go on show at the gallery’s Aspen outpost next year.
Seven Malaysian and Indonesian artists from the collectives Pusat Sekitar Seni and Population Project have withdrawn from the inaugural Kuala Lumpur Biennale after authorities confiscated an art work on 22 November following alleged complaints that its inclusion introduced ‘elements of communism’. The work Under Construction was an installation of drawings and posters exploring ecological issues across Southeast Asia. The authorities deny they censored the piece, and say the exhibition organizers took it down.
And finally, Jens Hoffmann is leaving his post as co-artistic director of Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, effective immediately – no reason was given for the departure. Michelle Grabner, co-artistic diector of the triennial, will continue – it opens in July 2018.