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Documenta CEO Annette Kulenkampff Cleared of Criminal Wrongdoing Following USD$6.3M Overspend

In further news: artists rally behind detained photographer Shahidul Alam; crisis talks at London museums following decline in visitors 

Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books, 2017, Kassel, documenta 14, installation view. Courtesy: documenta; photograph: Roman März

Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books, 2017, Kassel, documenta 14, installation view. Courtesy: documenta; photograph: Roman März

Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books, 2017, Kassel, documenta 14, installation view. Courtesy: documenta; photograph: Roman März

A public prosecutor has cleared former documenta CEO Annette Kulenkampff of criminal wrongdoing, following a USD$6.3 million overspend on the exhibition’s unprecendented two-venue 2017 edition. The investigation was launched into the budget shortfall after members of Germany’s far-right Alternativ für Deutschland party filed a lawsuit against Kulenkampff and curator Adam Szymczyk, accusing them of embezzlement and mismanaging public funds. But the prosecutor found that the former CEO did not act to deliberately endanger funds and that there was no evidence of criminal activity. They also noted that cost-cutting measures would have resulted in a decline in visitors and greater losses. ‘The mere fact that some projects don’t comply with the tastes of some observers or – in their view – are not suited to the goal of promoting the event, doesn’t meet the conditions for criminal breach of trust,’ the prosecutor said. In a statement, Kulenkampff said: ‘With this decision, the path is now clear for a continued successful future of documenta,’ also adding that, ‘It was and is most important to me to avert damage to documenta.’ Kulenkampff left her position last November, a year before her contract was due to expire. She was recently named director of the German Institute for Urban Design in Dortmund.

More than 400 artists have rallied behind photographer Shahidul Alam, who has been detained in Bangladesh after commenting on student-led protests in Dhaka. A petition to release Alam has been signed by hundreds of artists, photographers and filmmakers after he was arrested on 5 August for making ‘provocative comments’ – in an interview with Al Jazeera, the prize-winning photographer had criticized corruption and bribery within the government, and the gagging of the media. Alam says that he has been tortured while in custody. Signatories to a statement in solidarity with Alam include Raqs Media Collective, Bharti Kher and Amar Kanwar.

Visas for several authors invited to this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival have been declined by the UK Home Office. A dozen authors from Middle East and African countries have faced difficulties obtaining a visa, with applications declined at least once, and several outcomes still outstanding despite the festival’s opening on Saturday. Director Nick Barley called the application process ‘humiliating’ and claimed that authors were asked to provide three years’s worth of bank statements, as reported by The Guardian. Antonia Byatt, director of English PEN, warned that such problematic procedures would deter artists from visiting the UK, presenting the country ‘as a place that has closed its doors on international culture.’ The House of Lords recently released a report warning of a serious risk to the UK arts sector if Brexit threatened free movement: ‘the cultural sector will suffer and we will suffer,’ Lord Jay of Ewelme told frieze.

Crisis talks have been held by UK gallery heads regarding declining attendance figures. National Gallery board meeting minutes revealed that a 16% annual decline was related to a loss in ‘British visitors’, with core south-eastern and London visitors singled out as missing groups. The British Museum reportedly lost around 200,000 visitors when compared against the same three-month period of last year. The National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain also suffered significant visitor losses, with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London bucking the trend. The Times has the story.

The List project displaying more than 34,000 names of dead refugees and migrants has gone back on show in Liverpool after being mysteriously dismantled last month. It is still unclear why it was torn down from its Great George Street location, where it was originally installed by the Turkish artist Banu Cennetoğlu as part of the Liverpool Biennial. However, a spokesperson for the biennial said the work was still a vulnerable target: ‘We are doing everything we can to ensure that The List is presented for the remainder of Liverpool Biennial 2018, so that more people have the opportunity to come into contact with it’. According to one eyewitness account, ‘people in suits’ were spotted destroying the installation, which presents the names of all those who have lost their lives while seeking refuge in Europe since 1993.

Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina has been smuggled out of Russia to attend the Edinburgh Fringe festival despite a ban on her travel. Aloykhina was initially told by Russian security services that she was unable to leave the country at Moscow’s Domodevo airport. Russian news agencies later reported that Alyokhina had failed to complete a community service punishment for her participation in recent protests. Despite the ban, the artist and activist drove more than 1,000 km through Belarus to Lithuania and then boarded a flight to the UK. In a statement, the punk feminist collective said: ‘Pussy Riot founder Maria refused to be captive and silenced’. Alyokhina will join her bandmates to perform a show and promote her book Riot Days.

In appointments and movements news: Naomi Beckwith has been promoted to senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago – she has been with the institution since 2011 and previously worked as a curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem; Atlanta’s High Museum of Art has added new board members including hip-hop artist and Grammy winner Killer Mike, in addition to community activist Jean Hanges, Georgia-Pacific executive David Park and Interscope Records VP Keinon Johnson; the Studio Museum in Harlem has named Legacy Russell as associate curator of exhibitions; and Hope Alswang has announced that she will retire from her directorship of Florida’s Norton Museum of Art in March 2019.

In awards and grants news: the College Art Association is launching a fund for academic travel – made possible through an anonymous donation of USD$1 million – which will offer grants of up to USD$10,000 to allow art history faculties and students to see shows related to their study; and artist Rosa Johan Uddoh is the inaugural recipient of the Liverpool Biennial fellowship – the year-long fellowship, founded by Liverpool John Moores University, awards artists a GBP£5,000 cash prize and access to university resources, studio and exhibition space.

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