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October 25, 2018

Germany's Bauhaus Dessau Foundation Comes under Fire for Pulling Performance Amid Right-Wing Protests

DESSAU, GERMANY—The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation in Germany is facing backlash for caving to right-wing protesters and canceling a performance by the leftist punk band Feine Sahne Fischfilet, slated to take place on November 6. More than two hundred artists, curators, and other members of the art world have signed an open letter denouncing the institution for claiming that it made the decision in order to remain apolitical.

Addressed to Rainer Robra, the culture minister and chairman of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s council; Monika Grütters, the federal government commissioner for culture and the media; Peter Kuras, the mayor of Dessau-Roßlau; and Claudia Perren, the director of the foundation, the open letter reads: “By prohibiting the concert, the government of the state of Saxony-Anhalt and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation have done serious damage to democracy and cultural life in Germany, Europe, and beyond. It is worrisome how politics is intervening with obvious directives in a cultural institution. The event’s cancellation was carried out in close consultation with the State Chancellery, led by the CDU party, after corresponding demands from CDU and AfD circles, as well as groups of the extreme right.”

Signed by prominent cultural figures such as Daniel Birnbaum, the outgoing director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm; curator Kasper König; Nicholas Fox Weber, director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation; and artists Douglas Gordon, Anne Imhof, and Hito Steyerl, among others, the document takes issue with a press release circulated by the institution on October 18 that claims the band advocates for “politically extreme positions.” According to the letter, Feine Sahne Fischfilet, or Fine Fish Cream Fillet, “works against rightwing radicalism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, and has become an important actor in eastern Germany’s civil society.” It also criticizes the practice of appointing government officials to supervisory boards of cultural institutions and demands that at least half of the staff members be representatives of civil society.

The letter continues: “We are greatly worried about the spread of rightwing populism and rightwing radicalism in Germany and many other countries, throughout Europe and beyond. It is also alarming how casually the integrity of a cultural institution was sacrificed in Dessau. Unlike at institutes of higher education and public media, the supervisory boards of cultural institutions are usually staffed solely with representatives of the government and ministries, which increasingly treat these institutions like subordinate government offices. This is unworthy of the cultural life of a free country.”

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