February 9, 2018

Talk at Gerrit Rietveld Academie Sparks Debate over Free Speech

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—A conversation on collecting conceptual art between prominent Dutch collector Bert Kreuk and controversial artists Stefan Ruitenbeek and Kate Sinha at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie has turned into a debate on free speech following the conversation’s cancellation and reinstitution. Ruitenbeek and Sinha were invited by the Dutch art and design school to hold a speak with Kreuk about a video the duo had made as Keeping It Real Art Critics (KIRAC) about his collection, Abigail R. Esman reports for Artnet.

A group of Gerrit Rietveld students and alumni announced their intention to protest the February 8 conversation, citing KIRAC’s recent work in which Sinha has written admiringly of Harvey Weinstein and claimed that a recent Zanele Muholi exhibition at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was organized only because of the artist’s race and sexuality. “Numerous alumni, students, and teachers have expressed their concerns regarding previous KIRAC statements that touch on diversity issues. Being an institution of education (in art and design), we give priority to our responsibility to guarantee a safe learning environment,” the group said in a statement.

The school then moved to cancel the talk, which prompted one student to offer to independently host KIRAC and Kreuk in his studio. Pushing the controversy further, Ruitenbeek invited Gerrit Rietveld Academie board president Annelies van Eenennaam to participate in the discussion. The school’s board then voted to reposition the talk as an open debate between Kreuk, KIRAC, and van Eenennaam.

“We had invited KIRAC for a private discussion to explain our decision. A journalist asked me why it should take place behind closed doors, why we don’t stand up publicly, and I thought yes–so we are doing it to stand up for our decision,” van Eenennaam told Artnet. “Some of [KIRAC’s] footage is of a nature I find unacceptable and that crosses lines I think should not be crossed.”

Gerrit Rietveld Academie is the most recent Dutch institution to broach issues of race and free speech. In September 2017, Rotterdam’s Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art announced it would change its name because of its allusions to the Netherlands’ colonial legacy. Last month, Mauritshuis, in The Hague, came under fire relocating a bust of its namesake, a seventeenth-century Dutch military officer involved in the slave trade in Brazil.

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