CIMAM points to irregularities regarding the appointment of Viktor Kish to a leading position at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade

8 April 2020


Written by Dragana Nikoletic and published originally by NIN 26 March 2020.

A defense against ourselves. CIMAM points to irregularities regarding the appointment of Viktor Kish to a leading position at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade

Covid-19 blocked a lot of operations, even the normal work of cultural institutions in Serbia, turning some of them into online presentations and communication with their audiences. Everything went quiet and the affair fell into oblivion. Recently, however, the International Committee of Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) has forwarded an appeal to NIN over the election of Viktor Kish as acting director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, which we wrote about in February.

A member of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), CIMAM considers the MoCAB “very important,” as is Belgrade, both politically and in terms of the global history of contemporary art. For this reason, the experts of CIMAM consider it unacceptable that the potential of “one of the leading institutions from the Western Balkans” should not be fully exploited. And all because of political games that “favor a solution that destabilizes it,” even though the Museum forms the “base of the country’s cultural identity.”

CIMAM was well informed about what had happened here, enumerating the facts in their appeal. Since the ten-year reconstruction of the building, and the grand reopening on October 20, 2017, to “great enthusiasm,” the Ministry of Culture was hesitant to put out a call for a director until January 2019, when they announced the names of four candidate, Slobodan Nakarada, Zoran Erić, Branislav Dimitrijevic, and Vladislav Scepanovic, together with the dismissal of the former director “without any explanation.” In January 2020, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, at the behest of the Creative Industries Council, “an alternative body to the Ministry,” appointed Kish as its new acting director.

“The authorities have not cited any reason why the original call was ignored,” CIMAM museum staff noted. They also considered it important to point out that the Chairman of the Board (Nikola Suica) had resigned on this occasion. “There have been a series of protests in the media against what the local community of experts see as the interference of politics in culture,” they said in a statement. They further expressed “deep concern about abandoning the good practice of competent museum management,” despite the abundance of experts.

Asked by NIN whether it is more significant that Kish has no experience in managing museum facilities or that his is a political appointment, CIMAM representatives said that while “it is not our aim to become a judge in these matters,” the task of the organization is to observe and point out irregularities, which include both the aforementioned points. It discredits its function in the international league, where MoCAB holds a position of unambiguous importance.

On the politically friendly amendments to the Statute, implemented with the intention of finding party favorites in the Museum, CIMAM declines to comment due to insufficient information. In any case, the interdependence of politics and culture cannot be ruled out, nor is that desirable. Because, according to CIMAM, “the domain of culture is often steered by different political vectors, international foreign policy, education, economy... That is normal and good. It is a strategic part of society.”

Tourism represents a strategic point, investing money in city marketing and thus attracting a foreign audience of the “top tier,” they continue. The economy can also embrace culture, creating from its capacities an extremely competitive sector, including the so-called creative industries. However, “the bottom line is that the jurisdiction and the last word is culture itself,” said the experts of the International Committee.

The role of the acting official in this particular case would not be stated, although it “always indicates a crisis, a temporary problem, or a weakness in management.” When it comes to what in effect is a time-limited acting director, CIMAM points out that “good governance should aim for at least medium-term management periods.” On the practice of extending acting director mandates beyond the legal deadline such that the event is appropriated by the authorities, we did not even ask the international experts, considering this outside the sphere of their democratic understanding of society.

Finally, CIMAM expresses the hope that the Government of Serbia will bring back the “extraordinary expert community” that the country possesses to the negotiating table and “find a solution that would strengthen MoCAB's reputation and role.” It is theirs to indicate, and ours to implement (or not).

Judging by the reactions of the Ministry of Culture, it is more than likely that the state will not move a finger, since the NIN did not respond to the questions sent back in early February. Thus, we did not find out how the competition for the election of the Museum director was decided, or whether the Government was entitled to so act and, if so, whether all the candidates were valid.

Viktor Kish again refused to disclose his views on what he did not consider political, according to other media outlets. He briefly told NIN that he would not “go back to the past, in the name of the future,” but he would not comment further. Never.

In defense of Kish, Minja Bogavac, director of the Sabac Theater, stood up and expressed “condolences” on the need to cope with the neglect in which all state institutions find themselves. At the same time, she questioned the honor shown to Kish, which will only bring him harm.

In any case, whether accepting or rejecting CIMAM’s suggestions, we can consider the interest of the international public as a success. We are not the last important spot in the world to gain from the reputation of the international community of experts. Even if we don’t completely deserve that reputation, or occasionally ruin it.

Useful links:

Belgrade: Leading Institution Damaged by Local Politics

In the press:

→ PressReader, 19 March 2020, Zabrinutost zbog desavanja u MSUB

→ ArtDaily, 19 March 2020, Belgrade: Leading institution damaged by local politics

→ ArtDependence Magazine, 18 March 2020, Belgrade: Leading Institution Damaged by Local Politics

→ AG Culture, 18 March 2020, Belgrado, CIMAM: no a interferenze politiche, ritornare a shortlist 2019 per scelta direttore MoCAB