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German museum director slams Ai Weiwei choice for national pavilion

Udo Kittelmann says other artists chosen to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale will be “overshadowed”

Udo Kittelmann

The director of the Nationalgalerie, State Museums of Berlin says that choosing the high-profile Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei to exhibit in the German pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale (1 June-24 November) threatens to undermine the other artists selected to represent Germany: Romuald Karmakar from France, Santu Mofokeng from South Africa and the New Delhi-born Dayanita Singh.

Udo Kittelmann says: “If one invites Ai Weiwei, the international media attention is a given. Ai is increasingly used by some art world figures to put forward their own cultural politics in a populist way. The other artists could easily be overshadowed by his presence. It is my belief that one must take great care that the playing field is level.”

But the curator of the German pavilion, Susanne Gaensheimer, defended her selection, saying: “The German pavilion in 2013 is precisely about breaking away from simple truisms and rankings, and about questioning the assumption that there are unambiguous levels and identities... We [have] received far more requests for interviews with Karmakar, Mofokeng and Singh than for Ai Weiwei.”

In an unusual move, the curator of the French pavilion, Christine Macel, and Gaensheimer have decided to swap national pavilions this year in the Giardini of the biennale. Anri Sala, the artist representing France, will subsequently show a series of video works in the German pavilion.

Last year, Kittelmann was named curator of the Russian pavilion. The Dushanbe-born artist Vadim Zakharov, who is representing Russia, proposed Kittelmann to the pavilion’s commissioner Stella Kesaeva who runs her own non-profit organisation, the Stella Art Foundation in Moscow.

At a launch in late February in Moscow, Kittelmann told the assembled crowd that eyebrows were raised in Germany when he was appointed to present the Russian show of works at the biennale this year. Kittelmann and Zakharov, a founding member of the Moscow Conceptualists in the 1970s, have been working together on projects since the 1990s.

In a press statement, Kittelmann says: “I have followed Zakharov through mythical Elysian fields and met much resistance with him as we erected together [in 2003] the monument for Theodor W. Adorno at his place of birth, Frankfurt am Main [the memorial has been repeatedly damaged by vandals].”

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18 Apr 13
15:27 CET


Maybe the Germans should have invited a Cypriot artist to make a comment on the supposed financial bailout, or would that have been too controversial? Better stick to a safe dissident like WW.

17 Apr 13
15:18 CET


Ai Weiwei is much more than the persona that has been sanctioned by the international art world, and the media. For Udo Kittelmann to publicly criticise Ai's forthcoming presence at the German Pavilion in this way, is not only unprofessional, it fuels the very 'media attention' that he is supposedly concerned with. The less said, the better, I would have thought in this instance.

8 Apr 13
1:45 CET


I agree with Udo having such a big star will distract the audience away from the European artists. I'm sure the idea was to attract more people to the exhibitions by getting Ai Weiwei.

5 Apr 13
15:37 CET


Vadim Zakharov was born in Tajikistan and came to Moscow in 1978. Although incredibly important, he is not a 'founding member' of Moscow Conceptualism.

5 Apr 13
15:38 CET


All the efforts to make the Venice Biennale country pavilions borderless just proves (yet again) how irrelevant this Biennale is. It's great fun and who wouldn't want to be in Venice, particularly NOT at the Vernissage, wonder through the exhibitions, have a coffee, take the vaporetto to other art venues, go the Academia, Ponta della Dogana, etc But country representation and pavilions are an old nationalistic concept: artists, curators and writers live and work everywhere. Just give the pavs to curators to do mini exhibitions from anywhere or turn them into 3 months residencies open to the public to have a first-hand look at creativity.

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