thomas soraperra on Tue, 22 Feb 2000 01:26:51 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> SILENCED. NEVER.

Vienna, 16 Feb, 2000


A week ago, curator Robert Fleck published a statement in the pages of the
"Standard" daily newspaper in Vienna, where he expressed the opinion that
"in a country where Nazis once again take a share in government
responsibility, exhibitions can no longer take place." At the same time,
he called for an "all-encompassing boycott of all Austrian cultural
institutions." This comment provoked a multitude of public responses. Most
participants in the debate vehemently contradicted Fleck, pointing out in
particular that it would be gross stupidity in the present situation to
give up liberal political positions in the arts without due resistance, as
this would only encourage a "cultural hegemony" (Gramsci) of the Right. My
own stance reflects a decided support for this position. It cannot be
tolerated that we roll down the shutters and close up the "little shop of
culture". On the contrary: It is essential especially in a polarized
political situation like the present that institutions such as the
Kunsthalle Wien assume an important role in society which requires of them
an even more exacting way of working and a more precise aesthetic and
political positioning. And it is thus that the attitude towards the arts
and their institutions will become a crucial criterion of the social

Since the nineteen-eighties, the world has been represented, both in
philosophy and art theory, as a carnival of masks or a simulacra of
virtualities. We have even heard the "End of History" being pronounced.
Now we have slipped back into the morass of history in a most unpleasant
manner, finding ourselves once again confronted with a whole array of
positions that express a hostility towards humanity (ranging from
xenophobia, nationalism, hatred of the arts, to an absence of social
justice). By no means akin to Lyotard's "immaterialities", these positions
are solid, rough-and-ready demonstrations of a political will. A
fundamental distrust towards any government with an FPO-participation is
thus truly called for.  And indeed, while the new government's inaugural
declaration, when it came to the arts, merely rang up a handful of Old
Faithfuls from its staple of non-committal phraseology - ("education,
academic studies and culture form the foundations for our
future...multiplicity and autonomy, openness and internationalism...etc")
- in the end, it was a comment by the FPO's "philosophical mastermind",
Andreas Mölzer, in the "Kronen-Zeitung" daily newspaper that made it plain
which direction the winds would blow from in the future. Any criticism of
the "black and blue" coalition, [so-called for its party colours], coming
from those active in the arts, would henceforth be declared a "political
witch-hunt against Austria", said Mölzer, while writers and artists, from
Elfriede Jelinek to Valie Export, who dared articulate dissent, were
accused of doing so from any number of self-interested motives. And never
tiring of flogging a dead horse, Mölzer once again raised the hackneyed
spectre of a society dominated by a "politically-correct, late-leftist
zeitgeist, no matter how badly sucked dry and picked over it might be."
Such infamous late “Stürmer" polemics create a climate, which right from
the start stops any dialogue dead in its tracks. And Mölzer's
pamphleteering merely reflects what community councils and political
committees have been subjected to for years in terms of FPO-statements
relating to the arts and artists ranging from the modernist Wiener Gruppe
[Vienna Group] to the painter Cornelius Kolig. In 1998, just to give an
example, the Kunsthalle Wien rejected the impudent and infamous demand of
the FPÖ to remove the pictures of the exhibition “The Vienna Group" (“Die
Wiener Gruppe") which the squeaky-clean brigade considered as
"extraordinary filth". We did not allow the block leaders to dictate what
is to be considered right for the Austrians' eyes and we will continue to
do so.

The response to all these aggressive declarations of pugnacity cannot 
be a mere retreat into boycott on the intellectual and artistic life 
which would only silence the voices that are now more important than 
Instead, what is called for now is a keening of one's sensitivities 
towards the new strains dominating the public discourse. This 
includes a discriminating ear for the discrepancies between the soft 
soap of gubernatorial declarations, on the one hand, and the brassy 
reactionary practice of standing in the way of the arts and attacking 
deviant positions with a sledgehammer, on the other. That certainly 
is what all previous experience leads one to expect from this 
government in the near future. The arts will be a barometer, over the 
years to come, for measuring the political temperature in Austria. 
And in this role they will be an indispensable instrument for judging 
the social standards and the quality of public discourse. To 
characterize the attitude and effectiveness of the arts with a word 
of Samuel Beckett's, to whom the current exhibition at the Kunsthalle 
Wien is dedicated: "I shall never be silenced. Never."

Gerald Matt, Director, Kunsthalle Wien

Thomas Soraperra - public relations
Museumsplatz 1/6/1
A-1070 Vienna
phone +43-1-52189-21
fax +43-1-52189-25

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