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Art world protests against new Kanal museum directors

Kasia Redzisz © Cant Clausen

Representatives of the art world have launched a protest against the nomination of two new directors of the museum KANAL-Centre Pompidou close to the canal in central Brussels.

Around 400 people have signed an open letter against the decision of the board of the new art museum to fill the vacancy of artistic director with two people, accusing the board of sexism.

Initially, an international panel of experts was assigned the job of interviewing and choosing a candidate for the job. Their verdict went to Kasia Redzisz, a senior curator at Tate Liverpool in the UK. She received six votes of the ten cast.

The other four votes went to Bernard Blistène, the 66-year-old director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, whose contract there ends next week. Blistène has in recent times acted as a liaison between Paris and the new Brussels museum.

The job, protestors say, was never intended to be a two-person post – it was never advertised that way or interviewed for that way, but a decision by director-general Yves Goldstein to split the job was taken nonetheless.

The museum issued a press release.

“This collaboration is the perfect synthesis of what KANAL needs: a fresh look and a new multidisciplinary artistic sensitivity for the long term, and the guarantee of continuing what has already been successfully undertaken to build this 21st century museum hand in hand with the Centre Pompidou until 2027,” Michèle Sioen, president of KANAL and the jury said.

However in its open letter, those who are protesting the twin appointment point out that only six of the ten members of the jury were independent, while four have been associated with KANAL (and therefore Blistène) from the start.

This turn of events does not come entirely as a surprise to those who have been following Kanal and this procedure in particular behind the scenes. Many art professionals in Paris confirm that it was in fact an open secret that the job was promised to Blistène even before the procedure was put in place, and that he had an active say on the composition of the jury,” they write.

This promise was eventually fulfilled as Goldstein led the Kanal board through an overruling of the decision of the jury at the board meeting Monday into a compromised duo job with Redzisz, and the treacherous narrative sent out to back-up this decision.”
Redzisz, they insist, is perfectly capable of carrying out the function of artistic director by herself.

Teaming her up with an older man is an offensive act of sexism and a blatant insult to her expertise and capacities.”
And they call on the Brussels Region “to take its responsibility and address the sexism and lack of integrity, good governance and transparency in this process and institution.”

One experienced figure from the Brussels art world, Anne Pontégnie, formerly chief curator at another Brussels institution, WIELS, told Artnet:

“I believe [the problem] is both linked to this project being led by a politician [Goldstein] with little knowledge of art and culture who is thus unable to oppose anything to Pompidou’s suggestions, but also of how difficult it is to create new situations even when an institution is new. The force of the status quo is such that it requires gigantic efforts to shake it, even slightly.”