Despite efforts to oust him, Marc-Olivier Wahler, the director of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva (MAH), says he is confident he will retain his position and has the backing of city authorities.
Around 100 Geneva historians, teachers and archaeologists have signed a petition addressed to the city’s mayor, Frédérique Perler, arguing that Wahler is not the right person to run the museum, which is home to Switzerland’s oldest art collection. They denounced “historical nonsense liable to mislead the public who visit” and accused him of planning to replace the graphics cabinet, a space devoted to the museum’s collection of works on paper, with a café.
Wahler, who led the Palais de Tokyo in Paris from 2006 to 2012 and is an influential voice in discussions about the future of museums, tells The Art Newspaper that he wants to move the graphics cabinet to give it more space within the museum. He says that accusations of overspending on exhibitions are false, and several official audits of the MAH’s accounts have found no grounds for complaint. The protesters “believe that the museum should be a temple of knowledge, and view themselves as the gatekeepers”, Wahler says. “They want the museum to remain the domain of an elite and are against breaking down hierarchies.”
Wahler’s two-year probation period at the MAH comes to an end on 31 October. Sami Kanaan, Geneva’s top culture official, said in an interview with Le Temps daily newspaper on 18 September that he stands behind Wahler’s vision for the museum and has no hesitation about appointing him permanently from November.
Among Wahler’s plans for the MAH are a major expansion and a “radical process of transformation towards a forward-looking museum model”. For the first stage, which began this year, he invited the Viennese artist and designer Jakob Lena Knebl, who is representing Austria at the 2022 Venice Biennale, to curate an exhibition of new works and objects from the collection.