Museums Controversies News Hungary

Activists occupy Budapest’s Ludwig Museum

Protests over the removal of museum director Barnabas Bencsik

Protesters at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. Photo: © Gabriella Csoszó

Around 30 activists from the group “United for Contemporary Art” have been occupying the entrance hall of Budapest’s Ludwig Museum in the Palace of the Arts since last week. The protest, which is still ongoing, is directed at the “lack of transparency” in the selection process of the Ludwig’s new director.

When Barnabas Bencsik’s contract expired at the end of February, the Ministry of Human Resources (which is also responsible for culture) set up a committee to suggest a successor for the popular director. But the committee was criticised for being secretive and biased (four of the six members came from the ministry), particularly after proposing the relatively unknown Julia Fabenyi. “The functioning of Hungarian public administration lacks transparency and, for this reason, does not serve the needs of its citizens,” says the protest group in a statement. “But it’s not just about the Ludwig Museum,” says Reuben Fowkes, of the Budapest-based research platform Translocal, who took part in the protest. “It’s about the fact that amateurs and politicians are taking over the arts; about the way things are being done in Budapest, not just what is being done.”

On 10 May, the day after the protest began, Zoltán Balog, the minister of human resources, extended the decision period from 12 May to 12 June. Meanwhile, the Aachen-based Ludwig Foundation (the Budapest museum holds around 160 loans and donations from the late collector Peter Ludwig and the foundation) has expressed its disappointment over the termination of Bencsik’s contract and has supported calls to keep him in place. According to a Ludwig Museum employee, a representative of the foundation is due to arrive in Budapest on Thursday to discuss the situation with Balog.

Since coming to power in 2010, Viktor Orban’s right-wing Fidesz government has repeatedly upset the Hungarian art establishment by tightening its grip on culture. Accused of anti-democratic practices, the government has recently been criticised for transferring control of the arts budget to the ultra conservative Hungarian Academy of Arts.

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Comments

20 May 13
10:53 CET

BARBARA GUTTMAN, BUDAPEST

I am glad that articles in English language addressing the current events in Hungary are finally reaching the international audience. In the same time, I would like to stress that the article does not give an accurate picture about what the strike is exactly about. The protest is NOT about removal of Barnabás Bencsik , the director of Ludwig museum in Budapest. The protest is about asking for transparency how decisions about who is going to be director of art museums (as well as other cultural institutions) is made. The other thing the protesters are asking is professional autonomy for art institutions. At the moment it seems that posts about who will become director of director of The Ludwig Museum was made by jury having majority of people from the ministry who are professionally not competent for this task and Hungarian Academy of Arts a formerly private institution recently patronised by the Hungarian government, in order to centralise culture (take away autonomy).

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