Occupy Ludwig


I haven’t shared information on Hungarian cultural politics in over amonth, but unfortunately not a result of an improved situation or stasis; I’ve just had a lot of deadlines. Since May 9, protestors have occupied the Ludwig Museum-Budapest’s stairwell, something The Art Newspaper published a story on a few days ago. It’s great to see international media pick up on this local activism directed at the lack of transparency in the government’s cultural decision-making, and specifically against the current most critical issue: the replacement of the current director of the museum, Barnabas Bencsik.


Bencsik and Júlia Fabényi applied for the position, and an advisory committee recommended Fabényi to the government. Certainly to my mind, Bencsik is the much more qualified candidate. The protesters are also reacting to a series of political decisions that they feel have threatened the autonomy and professionalism of cultural institutions, and the group has stayed (and slept) in the museum for the past 11 days, and intends to stay until their demands for more information about the election of the new director of the Ludwig is met. From their press release:

9th May 2013

Unite for Contemporary Art                                           

We demand complete transparency in the running and adjudication of professional competitions in the art world!

The lack of transparency and culture of secrecy surrounding the current competition for the post of director of the Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art Budapest is unacceptable!

The anti-democratic practices afflicting education and society in the last two years have now reached the art world, including: the merger of the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts without proper consultation with art professionals, the appointment of the director of the Műcsarnok / Kunsthalle without a competition, the unjustified elevation of the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA) to a position of institutional dominance holding sway over public funds, and most recently, the lack of transparency in the Ludwig Museum competition.


The protesters have held many discussions and other events in the stairwell over the past week. Thursday evening, I attended a lecture by curator Kate Fowle on generative curating. Originally, she was going  to speak at the tranzit office about ICI (Independent Curators International)’s ongoing DO IT project with Hans Ulrich Obrist; however, given the situation the lecture was moved to the Ludwig stairwell and she spoke about reaction and revolution, and the changed role of the curator over the past 20 years with the rise, promise, and disillusionment offered by politically engaged biennials and institutional critique. Occupy as a movement and internationalism were discussed as problematic issues rather than easy solutions. I don’t know what the role of a curator is, or how an institutional critique could best be presented in Hungary today. But the Ludwig was considered the last autonomous art museum. And the protesters-mainly artists and art professionals- are offering a critique of their own.


In terms of this particular story, however, there is perhaps good news. The government put off its final decision about the directorship for another month, suggesting that it is considering keeping Bencsik in the role. It announced this delay the day after Occupy moved into the stairwell, and a few days after the Ludwig Stiftung (the museum’s collection was founded by a donation from Peter and Irene Ludwig’s  Foundation) insisted on a meeting to discuss the directorship before the final decision was announced.


This a positive sign, although I have no faith that the government will use the additional time to actually reconsider rather than prevaricate. And, in the interim,  this major institution will continue to flounder without any leadership–no one can be hired (and staff have begun to leave because of the changed circumstances) and no financial commitments can be made. Exhibition planning has ground to a halt as everyone waits. Bencsik’s contract expired at the end of February; now, the earliest possible date for a director is mid-June. It is a shocking waste of time, money, energy for everyone involved–in a truly non-partisan sense–for the government to continue to drag out this stupidity. At this rate I can foresee an empty museum, with no staff and no exhibitions in its galleries. If anything represents the loss and waste to the community, or more clearly exemplifies the damage to the credibility and professionalism of the institution, I think that image does.

A reverse-chronological series of posts about the cultural political situation in Hungary:

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