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January 6, 2021

Zdenka Badovinac Fired from Moderna Galerija by New Slovenian Government

Zdenka Badovinac.

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA—Zdenka Badovinac was forced by Slovenia’s new right-wing government from her post as director of Ljubljana’s Moderna Galerija, a position held since 1993. The removal, announced in November and effective December 24, reflects an attempt on the part of the government, formed in March of this year, to implement a more conservative and nationalistic culture.

Badovinac is widely known for spearheading the development of Moderna Galerija, the region’s most prominent, and arguably most progressive, museum. Christened “the house that Zdenka built” by the late Okwui Enwezor, Moderna Galerija under Badovinac’s direction amassed the first institutional collection of postwar avant-garde Eastern European art and hosted groundbreaking shows such as 1998’s “Body and the East: From the 1960s to the Present,” which traveled to New York’s Exit Art, and 2003’s “2000+ Arteast Collection: The Art of Eastern Europe in Dialogue with the West.” Badinovac, who this month was awarded the Igor Zabel prize for her “outstanding […] contribution to Eastern Europe and global art history,” has served as Slovenian commissioner at the Venice Biennale and as Austrian commissioner at the São Paulo Bienale; she was a board member and later president of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art.

An open letter, addressed to Slovenian culture minister Vasko Simoniti published November 17 and garnering more than a thousand signatures, condemns the government’s removal of Badovinac and that of Matevz Celik, who had been director of he Museum of Architecture and Design for a decade. The missive additionally decries the government’s efforts to restrict artistic freedom, noting “The field of culture has been severely affected by the coronavirus epidemic, and it has been further affected by decisions at the Ministry of Culture that threaten living culture, cultural heritage, professionalism and autonomy of decision-making bodies and cultural institutions.”

Speaking with Apollo magazine, Badovinac described her removal as “absolutely political,” comparing the Slovenian government’s attempts to quell artistic expression as similar to those of the Hungarian and Polish governments. “Alongside the targeting of contemporary art, or any other cultural context that harbors social critique,” she said, “we—meaning the artistic community—are seen as a threat.”

The Slovenian government via a December 13 press release, painted Badovinac and Celik’s firings as “a political process, but a process that requires regular transitions of power, which Slovenia sadly lacked for most of its independent history.”

Following three rounds of advertising for the position, the government named Robert Simonisek, a poet and freelance tour director, as Badovinac’s temporary replacement.

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