A Courageous Action by the staff of Moderna galerija, Ljubljana
10 March 2022
At the start of 2021, the CIMAM Museum Watch Committee expressed its deep concern about the actions of the Slovenian government in relation to the governance of MG + MSUM
The Museum Watch Committee now shares with CIMAM members this courageous letter sent earlier this week by the staff of the Museum to their government and media. In this public letter they call for the dismissal of the current Director on the basis of a number of very concerning actions undertaken by the Director since in post, all detailed in the letter.
We share this letter now as a gesture of solidarity and support with the staff of the Moderna Galerija and to share with our members the details of this critical situation as it unfolds.
Ljubljana, 8 March 2022
Public letter of protest
The vast majority of Moderna galerija's employees has issued a public protest demanding the resignation or dismissal of Moderna galerija's current Director, Aleš Vaupotič. Our public demand was addressed to the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, and sent also to the Slovenian Museum Association, ICOM Slovenia, the Slovenian Union of Education and Research, and the media. The situation is professionally dire, representing a threat to Moderna galerija's present and future, also in terms of its local and international standing and collaborations, and conditions of work. Moderna galerija is Slovenia’s central and only national institution dedicated to modern and contemporary art.
We, the undersigned 27 employees, represent 87.1% of full-term employees, 79.4% of all employees, and 100% of those who represent the core of Moderna galerija’s field of operations (collections, conservation, exhibitions and public programmes, education, archives, library). The protest letter includes three points, detailing the inadequacy of the Director’s vision, his poor knowledge of museum work, his numerous misjudgments, and his unacceptable behavior to the employees. We offer a short summary of our letter:
1/ INCOMPETENCE OF MUSEUM MANAGEMENT:
- Removing a part of the permanent exhibition of the contemporary art collection without notifying the exhibition curators.
- Ignoring almost all of the employees’ suggestions on various matters, such as museum standards and state of the building (storage environment, roof, etc.), copyright, public relations etc…
- Negotiating about hosting exhibitions or events without agreement with or prior knowledge of Moderna galerija’s curators, subsequently ignoring their opinions about the poor quality of the proposed projects, showing disrespect for Moderna galerija’s local and international exhibition legacy.
- Entering into negotiations about exporting Moderna galerija’s databases to external agencies without prior knowledge of the authors/curators of the databases.
- Disrespecting or breaking already agreed arrangements with the employees and external parties including artists.
- After almost a year in post, the director still has little idea of what museum work entails or what we, the employees, actually do.
2/ INCOMPETENT GENERAL MANAGEMENT:
- Tardiness in informing departments about financial matters.
- Mishandling contracts of external help or part-time employees.
- Not informing the employees about new employments or about setting up a new department.
- Inflated budgets for certain exhibitions, projects, or public programmes, completely disproportionate to their (ir)relevance.
3/ INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE EMPLOYEES:
- Pressuring employees, for instance by delegating work that is not part of the job description and using the annual performance review as a disciplinary process. The employees believe that the director cannot properly assess their skills and competence since he has never worked in a museum and has so far shown little interest in their work.
- Impossible and unconstructive dialogue. The director frequently and impatiently raises his voice, interrupts the employees, or treats them patronizingly.
- Late or no replies to emails, avoiding discussion, withholding important information.
We, the undersigned, feel that the current director of Moderna galerija has failed – and we fear that he will continue to fail – in the most basic mission of our public institution: to serve in the best public interest. We feel demotivated and disrespected both personally and professionally. We feel the need to preserve Moderna galerija's past, present, and future – and not just locally.
Adela Železnik, MA
Bojana Piškur, PhD
Jana Intihar Ferjan
Janja R. Pagon
Lara Štrumej, MA
Marko Jenko, PhD
Martina Vovk, PhD
Mojca Štuhec, MA
Nada Madžarac, MA
Tomo Barić Ravbar
This is the contextualizing text (10 March 2022):
In 2020, the mandate of long-term Moderna galerija’s Director Zdenka Badovinac’s ended and she reapplied for her job, as she had done several times before. The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia as the founder of Moderna galerija issued a call for applications for the post of the Director of MG. Instead of reappointing the director, the Ministry repeated the call for candidates three times, changing in the process the statutes of MG (against the loudly voiced opposition of the broader professional public) and the qualifications and requirements for the post, in order to enable the appointment of the Ministry’s favoured candidate, Aleš Vaupotič. His eventual appointment was one of the many politically motivated changes of directors of national cultural institutions in Slovenia on the part of the current government that we have witnessed over the last two years.
Since his appointment as Director of MG, Aleš Vaupotič, the staff of the museum have had a very difficult experience. The new director has acted extremely arbitrarily towards the past work, reputation and history of the institution, and has poinsoned his relations with most of the employees. On many levels – in terms of the museum’s public service and its vision and mission – the vast majority of the staff have come to realize that such activities are destructive of the institution and represent a serious threat for its mission – a mission that the expert staff continue to support.
On numerous occasions we have notified the Director of our disagreement on individual issues, the emplyees have appealed against the irregularities in management, suggested improvements by email and personally at staff meetings but these have all been without any concrete, visible effect. As a result, after a year of working (or not working) together the staff have publicly issued the letter below.
The Director’s immediate reaction was to ask for a dialogue but thia comes after a year of futile attempts on the staff’s part to hold a dialogue with the management and make it take their positions into consideration. His reproach that we are refusing to talk is therefore ungrounded and misleading and cannot be taken seriously.
For the museum employees this is a major step. As they say: “our profound concern for the future of the museum, its reputation and status, its national and international collaborations, and the professional standards of art museum work have driven us to bring to the public attention the irregularities in managing the museum and issue a public appeal for the resignation of the Director and the Assistant Director.