About the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art
21 December 2018
The latest developments around the management of the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) are raising concerns in the international community that CIMAM, as the professional organisation representing curators and directors of contemporary art museums, must address.
EMST has already had a complicated history since its establishment in 1997. The appointment of the first director, Anna Kafetsi marked a good start and she was in charge of the development of the current venue designed by 3SK – Stylianidis Architects and Kalliopi Kontozoglou (2003). The renovation process was subject to numerous delays due to legal proceedings, government instability and the identification of asbestos in the venue, with the result that EU and local funding was lost. In 2014 Anna Kafetsi was fired by the Minister of Culture after a period of conflict with the Museum’s Board.
Katerina Koskina, then President of the Board of the Thessaloniki Museum of Contemporary Art and Director of the Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, was appointed director in December 2014, working with a new board. Despite the complicated financial and logistical circumstances, with the building only completed in 2016, Katerina Koskina managed to profile EMST internationally, as a main venue of Documenta 14, whilst presenting simultaneously part of its collection in the Fridericianum, Kassel. Further, Koskina extended the collection and built it international profile through exhibitions in different international institutions including the most recent one at NAMOC, the National Arts Museum of China, Beijing. During this time her situation remained precarious. She was issued a series of short term contracts, firstly for 14 months, extended to 18 months, followed by another contract for 12 months which was due to expire on December 5th this year.
On November 4th, the new Minister of Culture, Myrsini Zorba, announced in an interview that she would extend the renewable mandates of those Directors of Greek cultural institutions that she felt were functioning well. When asked about EMST, the answer given was that the position of Director would be opened for competition. An announcement to that effect was published in Greek only on November 6th, with a deadline for applications given as December 14th.
On November 15th during the annual press conference of EMST, where a €3.000.000 grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation was announced, a press release was issued by the Ministry of Culture presenting a negative evaluation of Koskina’s Directorship. Koskina responded in the press the next day, refuting the allegations point by point. On December 4th, EMST opened two new exhibitions, one of new acquisitions, the second an exhibition of video work from the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome accompanied by a Bottoe Bruno project produced by the Fondazione Merz. The day after EMST was without a Director.
CIMAM is concerned that a senior colleague of international standing has been dealt with in such a way. The Ministry has not acknowledged the important work she has achieved in difficult circumstances, instead turning her into a scapegoat for a difficult situation, whilst once again endangering the institutional continuity of EMST.
CIMAM is also concerned about the lack of transparency in relation to the governance of EMST. A museum needs a clear framework through which the relationship between the government, Board, executive and staff is managed. This should include a transparent and clearly articulated processes for the selection and evaluation of the Director It is international good practice that the recruitment of a Director of a contemporary art museum of the scale of EMST should include an international open call and the involvement of international arts professionals as part of the selection process.
CIMAM would like to congratulate Katerina Koskina for what she accomplished during the last few years, leading up to the realization of the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art, 21 years after it was established. CIMAM hopes that the Greek state will allocate an operating budget appropriate to a museum of this scale and international standing. Art museums are a critical space within civil society for important public debate and engagement with the issues of our time.
Friday, 21 December 2018
Museum Watch Committee
CIMAM. International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art,
Affiliated committee of ICOM
In the EMST case, the Greek Minister of Culture sent CIMAM a letter adding her perspective to it. She assures that the Greek state has secured the necessary budget for the EMST and that it will be opening its collection to the public. We share the letter here:
Reply of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports to CIMAM's announcement
To: International Committee
for Museums & Collections
of Modern Art (CIMAM)
Subject: Reply to announcement of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM), dated of 21 December 2018
The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports has taken note of the unsigned announcement of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, Affiliated committee of ICOM (CIMAM), which was published on committee’s website on 21 December 2018.
One would have expected that the authors of the text would have crosschecked the information contained therein to avoid being one-sided and to respond better to the actual facts.
In order to complete the record, we are obliged to state that the aim of the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), and the duty of the artistic director and the board of directors, is to open the museum to the public and make it fully accessible to visitors. This objective was not achieved by the previous director during her tenure, despite the support of the Ministry, and it was therefore considered necessary to advertise the post of artistic director.
It should be highlighted that this is the first time that the Ministry has not appointed someone to the position. Rather, it is committed and will proceed from now to appoint the artistic directors of all the public cultural organisations that it supervises after they have been selected by an independent expert committee.
The EMST is not the only case, and we believe that you would agree that this process offers guarantees of meritocracy and independence to cultural organisations.
In any event, where directors have achieved their programme objectives in concert with the board and have already prepared a new plan, they will be given the opportunity to renew their mandate once again, which the current political leadership of the Ministry has already done in some cases.
Since this has not been the tradition in museums and organisations, where in the past artistic directors were appointed directly upon an act of government, without a competition and selection by an independent committee, the Ministry would expect that this change would have been welcomed by the CIMAM, all the more, given that the former artistic director had the opportunity to apply for the position had she wanted to.
The Ministry has complied with all legal procedures and deadlines and has made a public announcement on the establishment of the Evaluation Committee, which comprises persons of recognised standing whose objectivity cannot be denied.
Regarding the grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), we would like to clarify that this concerns and presupposes the operation of the EMST and the opening of its collection to the public. This is exactly what the board of directors guarantees and what will be asked of the new artistic director, and that is why the entire staff is already working intensively on opening the museum’s collection to the public in the coming months.
It is clear that the Greek state has secured the necessary budget for the EMST, which, in spite of the difficulties and austerity experienced by the country, has never failed to do.
We find ourselves at a time when the Greek state is emerging from the deep economic crisis of the past decade, renewing the functions of public cultural organisations and claiming its international cultural presence. Just a month ago, five museums in Thessaloniki merged to create MOMus, Thessaloniki’s largest museum of visual arts, the directors of which will likewise be appointed through a public call for applications.
We hope that this note will set the record straight so that there are no misunderstandings about the EMST and its proper functioning in the future. Soon the museum will welcome Greek and foreign publics with its wonderful collection, which is something we all want and on which we work together.
MINISTER OF CULTURE & SPORTS
→ ArtForum, 11 March 2019. Cultural Figures Decry Greek Ministry's Handling of Museum Director Search
→ The TOC Times of Change. 18 December 2018 The 5-member Committee for the post of artistic director at the EMST
→ Ta Néa. December 14, 2018 What is the Commission for the evaluation of candidates for the position of Artistic Director at the EMST