January 4, 2021

Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Rector Forced Out in Wake of Protest Action

Kirsten Langkilde.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Kirsten Langkilde, rector of Copenhagen’s prestigious Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, was forced by the Danish culture ministry to resign after a faculty member stole a 1950s replica bust of eighteenth-century ruler Fredrik V, the school’s founder, and tossed it into a nearby canal as an act of protest against the academy’s colonial roots.

Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld, a postdoctoral researcher at the academy, was let go after claiming credit for the November 6 sinking of the 1950s statue, which she branded a “happening” that she hoped would draw attention to the school’s involvement in the slave trade. Her firing sparked contention: More than eight hundred cultural workers, artists, and others signed an open letter published in her support, while critics decried her action as having extreme, perhaps even fascistic, implications.

“One cannot claim to be above the law under the pretext of creating art. Theft and vandalism remain criminal acts, regardless of the context. I therefore strongly disapprove of Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld’s choices and actions in this matter, wrote Langkilde in a November 17 statement condemning the action. “The Academy is open to teachers and students of any political leanings, including, of course, identity-political attitudes. Thought policing will never become part of the admissions process at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. But it is equally clear that no matter how strong one’s convictions, it is not acceptable to use them to snub or ostracise others or try to suppress the free exchange of opinions.”

Langkilde, who allegedly sent an internal email containing a video of the sinking and the lone admonition, “Have a good weekend,” submitted her resignation on December 14 after Danish culture minister Joy Mogensen released a statement contending that Langkilde and the ministry had “not been able to come to an agreement on the challenges facing the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts” and that there was “therefore the need for new energy.” Jes Gjørup is to serve as acting director until a suitable replacement can be found.

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