Kunsthalle Wien director Nicholas Schafhausen will leave post amid the “resurgence of nationalist politics” in Austria.
Schafhausen had an agreement with the City of Vienna to stay at the helm of the art center until the end of his ten-year term in 2022. But Schafhausen will instead leave next year, citing the fact that “advanced experiments in the arts” in the country are being suppressed by the far-right government that took power at the end of 2017. “The opposition to the program was partly foreseeable given the political position the institution has advocated,” Schafhausen said in a statement. “Kunsthalle Wien is an institution that is at the centre of controversial debate that has manifestly hit a sore spot in the self-image and self-realization of Vienna’s cultural landscape.”
Kunsthalle Wien, which has two spaces in Vienna, has been a vital cultural resource since opening in the Austrian capital in 1992. But the new political regime has made it clear that it will crack down on art critical of the government. When newly elected 31-year-old chancellor Sebastian Kurz released a five year plan that borrowed its title from the motto of the Vienna Secessionists art movement, it was slammed by the current Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession, which released a statement saying the government expected art exhibitions to consistently “buttress a national collective identity” rather than critique it.
Austria became the sole country in western Europe run by the far right when Kurz, the head of the Austrian People’s Party, was elected on a hard-line immigration platform, and created a coalition government by appointing the head of the Freedom Party, which was created by former Nazis in the 1950s, as vice chairman. The current show up at the Kunsthalle Wien is a retrospective of Canadian artist Ydessa Hendeles, whose work deals with her experience of being raised by Holocaust survivors.