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Leading Austrian Museum Director Resigns; Cites ‘Resurgence of Nationalist Politics’

In further news: Olu Oguibe claims pro-refugee obelisk in Kassel under far-right pressure; all-male BelgianArtPrize shortlist withdraw 

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Nicolaus Schafhausen. Courtesy: © Kunsthalle Wien; photograph: Steffen Jagenburg

Nicolaus Schafhausen. Courtesy: © Kunsthalle Wien; photograph: Steffen Jagenburg

The director of Kunsthalle Wien, Nicolaus Schafhausen, has announced that he is stepping down in March 2019 – his departure, in agreement with the city of Vienna, comes three years before his contract was due to end. He has beeen with the institution since 2012. In a public letter, Schafhausen claims that arts programming has been challenged by Austria’s new coalition government. ‘Advanced experiments in the arts are increasingly constrained by the resurgence of nationalist politics,’ he writes. ‘Cultural institutions that engage with complex societal and artistic challenges will require substantially stronger political backing in the future.’ You can read his letter in full here. And don’t miss Kimberley Bradley’s analysis of what will happen to art under Austria’s right-wing government: ‘What won’t likely happen is obvious censorship. But we might see, through populist media channels, vilification of provocative aesthetics in favour of conservative ones.’

The dispute over Nigerian-born American artist Olu Oguibe’s Monument for Strangers and Refugees (2017) in Kassel continues. The work was featured in last year’s documenta 14 exhibition, and is situated in the city’s Königsplatz. Kassel and the artist then launched a fundraising campaign to keep the artwork in the city. Over the last year, the piece has also become the focus for vandals as well as far-right criticism, with an Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) member calling it ‘ideologically polarizing, deformed art’ – targeting the artwork’s explicitly pro-immigrant politics. Now Oguibe is arguing with the city of Kassel over the obelisk’s location – according to The Art Newspaper, city authorities have suggested moving it to Holländische Platz, but the artist maintains it was designed for Königsplatz. Oguibe claims that the relocation plans are linked to Kassel politicians bending to the demands of the far-right AfD.

A Swedish court has blocked plans for a David Chipperfield-designed Nobel Centre in Stockholm. The court ruled that the brass-clad building would damage the city’s waterfront, affecting ‘the readability of Stockholm’s historical development as a port, shipping and trading city’.

Nominees for the 2019 BelgianArtPrize have collectively withdrawn after hundreds of art professionals in the country signed an open letter criticizing the all-male shortlist and calling out its ‘flagrant exclusivity’. Now Sven Augustijnen, Koenraad Dedobbeleer, Gabriel Kuri and Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys have decided to step down from the award, while supporting the jury’s decision-making and commenting: the ‘rapid shift of public attention from artistic discourse – let alone merit – towards white male privilege is frankly something we regret’.

In awards and appointments news: Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-jen is the recipient of the Artist of the Year prize at the 11th Award of Art China; Souls Grown Deep Foundation, the nonprofit that celebrates African-American artists from the US South, has appointed Mary Margaret Pettway as its new board chair; and the Center for Curatorial Studies and the Human Rights Project at Bard College has selected Tiona Nekkia McClodden as its next Keith Haring Fellow in Art and Activism.

And finally, plans have been announced for a major new arts district in Xinglong Valley, Hebei province, China. Guangdong Yuegang Investment Development announced the Valley XL project at the Venice Architecture Biennale: the ‘eco-city’ will feature a museum for contemporary art as well as artists’ studios. Curator Li Zhenhua will serve as advisor, with a soft opening scheduled for 2019, The Art Newspaper reports.

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