Support for Charles Esche

Issue no4
Aug - Sept 2020

In recent days, the local Labour party (PvdA) in Eindhoven has criticised the museum policy of the Van Abbemuseum. They demand the museum to make more revenue with their exhibition programme - in other words, make so-called 'blockbuster' exhibitions. There will be a Town Hall meeting on the subject on Tuesday 18 October, 16.00 hours.

On October 14th, Van Abbemuseum director Charles Esche posted a call on his facebook profile to support the museum's policy. The international art world has responded in large numbers, according to today's local newspaper Eindhovens Dagblad. The newspaper published a selection of the responses.


Anne Pasternak
President and Artistic Director, CREATIVE TIME, New York

I understand that recently the Van Abbemuseum has been under attack and I want to write in support of this much respected institution, which is admired and cherished by countless people all over the world. It does not surprise me at this moment in history that important institutions for free thinking are under attack, but one could wish that it would be the last example of this.

Vivian Ziherl
Independent curator and writer
Amsterdam and Brisbane, Australia

I am a young Australian curator and writer, currently based in Amsterdam and maintaining my work and connections in the Asia-Pacific region.
I first visited the Van Abbe museum in 2010, although already in Australia I was keenly aware of the leadership position that the Van Abbe had developed among museums internationally.
Over recent years the work of the Van Abbe museum has been innovative and visionary, both in deeply engaging the relationship that an institution has with its local constituents, as well in advancing the possibilities of a museum's contribution to a transforming global context.
Over the past year, I have had many professional and friends to visit from Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Japan. I can say with confidence that all of these guests returned from a visit to Eindhoven and the Van Abbe Museum inspired and energised, often with profound reflections upon the un-realised possibilities that may exist within their local context for audience and international engagement.
Indeed, I would be tremendously proud to be able to count a museum as innovative and internationally significant as the Van Abbe among the museums active in my region.
The outstanding history of this museum is truly a credit to the people and the city of Eindhoven, and generations into the future major figures in the arts will look towards Eindhoven to learn from the profoundly important work that is being done there at this current moment.
I submit to you these experiences with warm hopes the the enormous value of Van Abbe Museum in its current practice will be able to be recognised and upheld.

Megs Morle
Artist and curator

It is with great regret that heard about the recent attack on the integrity of the Van Abbemusuem. As a curator based in Ireland, the Van Abbemuseum's contemporary art programme has informed my practice for many years. In fact in my most recent exhibition entitled Tulca, many of the European artists that I have selected have previously been shown in the Vanabbemuseum.
I feel so sad that such an innovative, inspiring and vital museum is now under threat.
The vision that is expressed through the Van Abbemuseum cannot be equated to a numerical counting of audience, It extends far beyond beyond the museums walls- reaching to artists, curators and researchers all around the world.
I ask you please to that in these troubled times that this beacon of genuine social importance not be extinguished.

Stephan Dillemuth
Professor Akademie der Bildenden Künste, München

Rumor of the populist witchhunt against the van abbemuseum have already reached Munich, Germany. This is disgusting, because it can not be seen by itself:
It seems Geert Wilders and his likes are getting a big momentum in Holland, exploiting the fears and emotions set free by the financial collapse and the inability of politicians to cope with the problems. Even social democrats seem to be following his arguments like sheep, instead of opposing such politics. However, these new politics are wrong in 2 ways:
Seen from a economic perspective, the Van Abbemuseum has done a great job, placing a boring town like Eindhoven on an international map of wealthy connaisseurs, collectors and trendsetters. This has positive side-effects not only on the local art scene but also on tourism and local industries.
Seen from a cultural and artistic perspective alone, he Van Abbemuseum is internationally renown, has done a lot of excellent exhibitions and has contributed to the international research in the arts.
But who wants international attention and success, if one can crank on the populistic emotions?
The fact that austerity measures are now applied in order to cut budgets of institutions that bring international attention, glamor and money to dull places like eindhoven is deeply be'wildering' , because it shows that politicians and media get trapped by a trick: they say budget-cuts, but they mean nationalism and everyone else knows: it means provincialism.
Good bye eindhoven!

Franco Berardi Bifo
Writer and Director of the European School for social Imagination, Bologna

The di-financing of culture, arts and education is the most dangerous action.
Cutting culture and education will not help in overcoming the present economic crisis, and may bring on the contrary to psychological and economic depression, and pave the way to a future of ignorance, aggressiveness, violence.
The Van Abbe Museum is widely known in the European intellectual world because it has been a stronghold of aesthetic research and of education in the field of Art and Communication.
Cutting funds for that point of excellence in the cultural map of Europe would be a show of insanity and self-mutilation for the Eindhoven community.

Pablo Lafuente
Associate curator

I have been made aware of a very worrying initiative by the PvdA in the city of
Eindhoven criticising the programming activities of the Van Abbemuseum. Part of this criticism seems to state that the Van Abbemuseum is currently a museum without, or with little, international reputation. As the Associate Curator of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, the organisation set up by the Norwegian Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs to act as intermediary between Norway's and the international art scene, I can categorically affirm this statement is not true.
The Van Abbemuseum has for the last 6 or 7 years been one of the key public institutions of art and culture of reference in Europe and internationally. Its thoughtful, far-reaching, innovative and engaged programming are perceived internationally as a major cultural asset for the city of Eindhoven and the Netherlands, and the museum presents both city and country as places where public funding is spent on cultural projects of worth. The Van Abbemuseum and its current activities are also a model for public institutions worldwide, and, were they to be curtailed or lost, this would be a great loss for the international art context and, I dare to say, for the city of Eindhoven and the cultural life and international reputation of the Netherlands.

Rudolf Frieling
Curator of Media Arts, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

It is with great concern that I learn about plans to change the current policy regarding the Van Abbe Museum in your city. I am curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and have recently visited the Van Abbe in the summer of 2011. I left with the impression to have experienced one of the most vibrant and stimulating museums I have ever seen. From as far as the West Coast in the United States we are looking towards director Charles Esche and his team as a beacon of innovative museum practice. It would be a dramatic loss if the museum would have to discontinue its successful programming. Every museum visitor leaves this place enriched and enlightened. Not many museums can report this!

Gottfried Wagner, Austrian Federal Ministry for Education

Van Abbe is a very relevant place in trans-national artistic laboratories and discourse. One of the spaces of which the NL can be so proud of.
Actually - many of the advanced spaces of art and culture are endangered right now, thanks to this government...
Thus I was even more shocked to read and hear that it is the Labour Party of the NL which questions van Abbe and its team.
It would be soooo counterproductive....

Professor dr. Hito Steyerl
University of Arts Berlin, Fine Arts Dept

The VanAbbemuseum has a stellar reputation internationally as a laboratory for the development of new forms of curating and exhibiting. It deftly puts Eindhoven on the map of contemporary Art in a way achieved by few other European institutions. The fundamental rethinking of what a museum should be and how it can interact with a global audience has already been adopted as best practice model in many other institutions worldwide. To stop funding this R&D activity, which of course is coupled with a bustling day-to-day activity, would lead to huge losses in international reputation.

Hans Haacke
I was surprised and shocked by what friends in the Netherlands (I live in New York) told me about an attempt by members of the City Council of Eindhoven to interfere with the direction and programming of the Van Abbemuseum.
Since I have known the Van Abbemuseum as a young artist in the early 1960s (I had a solo show there at the end of the 1970s, organized together with the Tate Gallery in London), it has played a unique role in the international art world – and still does so today, under the exemplary directorship of Charles Esche. In conversations with fellow artists, curators and critics, Esche and the Museum’s present activities often come up. They are internationally admired. Often the hope is expressed that other institutions emulate this model. Art periodicals and newspapers around the world regularly cover what’s happening at this museum in Eindhoven. Only a few months ago, I saw a full-page article about the Van Abbemuseum in EL PAÍS, the national newspaper of Spain.
I cannot believe the Eindhoven City Council would now want to waste this extraordinary cultural capital – earned over so many years – and make box office results the new measure for the City’s commitment to culture.

Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson
Visual artists, living in Rotterdam and Berlin

Immediately while reading Labour Party's "Initiative board proposal to adjust the target for the Van Abbemuseum" it becomes clear that it is the Labour Party, in contrary to the Van Abbemuseum, that has lost its vision of the complex world we live in today and shows itself to be in no position to advice or counsel on the aims of the museum. The Labour Party´s position is shamefully populist and it is a crying out disgrace that the party that historically fought for workers rights and peoples rights to be people and not merely a faceless number in the machinery are now demanding those same people to bee accounted for as a (visitor)number in the capitalist machinery of mass consumption and entertainment. The Labour Party is proposing the museum to further join hands with the capital, running the museum more as a business entity and to make sure that a visit to a museum will not possibly wake up its visitors to think or question anything, but keep them numb by petting and pleasing them with mediocre entertainment. And to say that the Van Abbbemuseum is not open to a broad public is simply a false and confusing statement. The museum is certainly open to all, and certainly reaches out to all, but weather "all" show up, is also up to the people themselves, who make up their own choices, and who´s choices indeed reflect as well the state of affairs in their culture today. In Iceland, Spain, Greece, USA, Israel, Germany and elsewhere people flock onto the streets, demanding their democratic rights... while the Dutch Labor party (in Eindhoven), in those times of crisis, is fighting for the peoples rights of visiting a "block-buster" art show in their neighborhood and to have their bridal picture taken in the museum.
From their attack on Van Abbemuseum´s program and position, which is of the highest quality in modern and contemporary art, viewing it from a local, national and international context (meaning the context we all really live in), it becomes clear that the Labour Party may have lost once and for all it's vision of being possibly a party that represents a socially (and left) engaged oriented ideology; an ideology that represents and fights for a society of awaken and educated citizens and does it's best in challenging their harts and minds for social justice, for self determination, for cultural richness and cultural diversity, for real democracy, for critical discourse, for solidarity and an emancipatory spirit of it's people.

Axel Straschnoy:
I have heard of the issues that have been raised in relation to the van Abbemuseum and its program and I thought I could write to you about my experience and that of people close to me, in hope that it might give a new point of view on it. While I am going to talk of very small and personal experiences, maybe not meaningful in themselves, I hope you will agree with me that many others have had similar experiences, and what can be here a few small examples happens many times over.I am an artist, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, living in Helsinki, Finland, for some seven years now.
I got to know the van Abbemuseum in 2007 when I was selected to participate in the Eindhoven Caucus, a part of the Be(com)ing Dutch Project, organized by the museum. I shared three weeks in Eindhoven with artists from all over the world (including many from Eindhoven) who were eager to learn more, think more, know more, act more, who wanted to enlarge their world and become better artists. We were lucky to have access to a plethora of speakers, with proven track records who helped us develop ourselves. During the weekends, the sessions were open and the conference room would get packed.
I have participated in similar programs in Argentina (at the Centro Cultural Rojas) and in France (at the Palais de Tokyo) and I have to say that I have never experienced anything like it. It has not only created relationships and collaborations with a wide range of artists but also has put Eindhoven in the map for me and created a link to your city, to which I have been back every year since then, to hear a lecture at the van Abbemuseum, to see an exhibition or to participate in a symposium.
I have, in fact, been there last week. The Finnish state (through FRAME foundation) has sponsored my participation in The Autonomy Project Symposium and asked me to write a text summarizing the discussion that took place there. Two professors at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and the director of FRAME herself were planning to come but had to cancel due to scheduling issues. Finally, the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts is organizing a symposium around the concept of autonomy as a follow up to the discussion that took place in Eindhoven.
My wife has done her masters degree in art theory in Maastricht University. During her time there (2009-10) the exhibitions and seminars at the van Abbemuseum were part of the everyday discussion between the students and teachers, in a way that few other museums were. It became a model of what is possible to do, of how things can ben different.
A close friend of mine just finished the De Appel curatorial program in Amsterdam, one of the best in the world. As he was getting ready to leave to the Netherlands I strongly encouraged him to visit the van Abbemuseum. When he came back he told me that not only had he personally been revolutionized by the policy of the museum but that that had been the case for all of his fellow students. Furthermore, the museum was the favorite place for all of them when thinking of where they would like to get a job after the program.
What I am trying to bring across is the fact that the van Abbemuseum, its symposiums and exhibitions are discussed worldwide, be it in Chicago, in Helsinki, in Buenos Aires or in Paris. The people I've met in the art world consider part of their job to know what is happening in Eindhoven, what thoughts and ideas are being created and coming from there.
I believe that the van Abbemuseum is a boon not only to those of us who live abroad, and get to visit and participate in its programs but also for the city of Eindhoven and its cultural sphere. I would never have come to know the editions of Onomatopee if it were not for the van Abbe. And, for example, when a Finnish curator asked me for recommendations of artists for an exhibition that took place in the Netherlands and will take place in Helsinki I was quick to recommend Toos Nijseen, a local artist I met at the caucus. In short, it places Eindhoven in an international cultural map in a place where most cities would like to be.
I hope some of this has been useful for you to think or reflect about the role of your museum. I thank you for your time

Alexandra Ferreira and Bettina Wind
We came to Eindhoven for the first time four years ago, to participate in a four-weeks gathering and symposium in the VanAbbe Museum. At that time, we did not see much of the city, but spent our days in and around the museum, discussing and exchanging thoughts and opinions, both with local and international colleagues. The prominent question, how local and translocal issues and politics are intertwined and depending on each other, inspired us to return to Eindhoven, this time to develop a new work for the city space. During two months we explored the city, from a distance (being transitional guests), but with a growing affinity towards the peculiar urban texture, towards the inhabitant’s social spaces and initiatives that are not visible at the first sight. Although many would say that Eindhoven is not a particularly interesting place to visit for travelers and tourists, we keep returning. The reason: there are only a few places in Europe where you can get in touch with an active culture scene that lives from both, local initiatives and international guests who are passionately looking for ways, not only to understand city matters, but also how a scene, a city, a country is connected with global concerns that affect us all. The VanAbbe Museum with its current program and agenda is a driving force to stimulate those questions, to facilitate encounters and to give access to a more complex and rich impression of Eindhoven and the Netherlands that any tourist visit or image created by media coverage could provide. Any step back from the museum’s ambitious aims and agenda would be a big disappointment and loss, not only on a local, but certainly on an international level. Out of this reason we want to express our support for the VanAbbe Museum in its current direction as one of the most important entryways to a lived and shared culture in Europe.

Natasha Ginwala
Independent art critic and curator
I write this letter at a moment when a significant museum in the Netherlands is facing immense pressure from a local political party to change its policy and approach. The VanAbbe Museum stands amongst the most relevant spaces for viewing, debating and activating Modern and Contemporary Art. It is a museum that is 'self-conscious,' and thereby, it is constantly modifying and renovating its socio-cultural function. VanAbbe Museum is concerned about reaching out to its immediate neighbourhood(s), yet also extends the concept of neighbourliness to the global. Under the directorship of Charles Esche and his committed team, this institution has greatly expanded narratives around the collection, constructed experiential tools to generate participatory spectatorship, and continues to provoke its stakeholders to maintain an 'autonomous' imagination in times of populism and social collapse.
As an international critic-curator living in the Netherlands, I wish to voice support for this cultural institution and its current philosophy. To cut the city council budget by 30% and impose astronomical audience numbers would be complete injustice and leave the public sphere bereft of a truly vanguard space.

Professor Sholette
Queens College, New York

My name is Gregory Sholette and I am an Assistant Professor of Art who teaches at Queens College in New York, USA, but the reason for writing this email is to explain how very significant the Van Abbemuseum has been to me, to my research, and in turn to my students. The innovative and challenging programs organized by this institution reverberate in places far away. The extremely well researched and documented exhibition Forms of Resistance for example provided a catalog that is a basic learning tool in my writing and teaching. I hope that the importance of your institution to people around the globe will become evident to you and that nothing diminishes the work that is being carried out at the Van Abbemuseum by its current director and staff.

Martha Buskirk
Cambridge, Massachusetts

I am shocked and dismayed to hear about the attacks on the Van Abbemuseum. It is an extremely important and exciting museum, with exhibitions that are discussed worldwide. The museum is the reason that I have visited Eindhoven, and I am sure that is the case for many other people. I urge support for this major institution.

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19 October 2011
Professor Stephen Partridge

It is with great sadness and some horror that I hear about the local political plans to try to influence and change the current policy regarding the Van Abbe Museum. I am an artist, and a Dean of Research in Art & Design at DJCAD Dundee. I have been inspired by this exemplary museum since I first visited in in 1977.
This is a world class institution, admired around the world and consistently led by imaginative and innovatory curators over 4 decades. Very few cities in the world can claim to have supported such a place within their midst, and Eindhoven should be commended on its past support and continue to invest in its future without regard to market-driven or utilitarian notions.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2020