Power of Hungary’s conservative art Academy grows
Opponents disrupt meeting of influential right-wing group
By Julia Michalska. Web only
Published online: 20 December 2012
Around a dozen protesters managed to crash the general assembly meeting of the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA) on 15 December. The Academy is an ultra conservative artists’ association funded by the Hungarian right-wing government of Viktor Orban. The activists took the stage, unfurling a banner that read: “The MMA is exclusive, art is free.” Hungarian media reported a violent struggle with security forces as the group was led out of the meeting.
Fears have been growing over the MMA’s tightening grip on the Hungarian cultural sector. Last month, Gabor Gulyas, the director of the Mucsarnok, Budapest, a leading venue for contemporary art, stepped down. Gulyas said he was no longer able to “work independently” after the government announced that the Academy will take over the artistic and organisational leadership of the institution at the start of the new year. Gulyas, who was himself appointed by Orban and only took office in 2011, said it was his “moral duty to resign”.
The decision to transfer control of the Mucsarnok to the Academy was prompted by the Mucsarnok’s exhibition “What Is It To Be Hungarian?” which was branded “national blasphemy” by the MMA’s 80-year-old leader, Gyorgy Fekete. According to the Hungarian branch of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), membership of the Academy “requires a commitment to the nation, a certain ‘national sentiment’”. Artists who criticise the government abroad are not eligible for membership, Fekete said in an interview in the weekly Hungarian magazine Demokrata.
The Academy was founded as a private association in 1992. In 2011, it was transformed into a public body, in a process that, according to AICA “lacked the minimum [level] of transparency”. The government gave the Academy a large budget (around $114m), and opulent headquarters. From 1 January 2013, the leadership of the Academy will be involved in decisions over public cultural funding and participate in the selection of museum directors, according to AICA.
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