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Veteran German curator chosen to lead Manifesta biennial

Kasper König, former director of the Ludwig Museum, is know for standing up to conservative critics

A good start: Kasper König (far right) celebrating his appointment as the chief curator of Manifesta with Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage Museum; Hedwig Fijen, the founding director of Manifest, and Swetlana Datsenko, the Hermitage Amsterdam’s representative in St Petersburg

Kasper König, the Berlin-based curator and former director of the Museum Ludwig, has been chosen as the chief curator of the nomadic biennial Manifesta 10, due to be hosted by the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, next year. The main exhibition of the “roving European biennial for contemporary art” (28 June-31 October 2014) will be the Hermitage’s new Modern and contemporary art wing in the General Staff Building.

König (b. 1943), has been an influential figure in Germany’s art world for decades. He helped set up the Skulptur Projekte Münster biennial in 1977 and from 1988 to 1999 taught at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. He also founded Frankfurt’s contemporary art kunsthalle Portikus and was the director of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, for the past 12 years.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary next year, Manifesta was established to encourage artistic and cultural exchange between European countries after the Cold War. Although it is fittingly symbolic, the choice of St Petersburg as a location could cause some tension, especially after the recent conservative crackdowns on culture and the anti-gay laws passed by the Russian president Vladimir Putin in July.

While he was the director of the Museum Ludwig, König took a hard line with such conservative views. Speaking to Frieze Magazine last year, he said: “No one tells us what to do. That’s a privilege, and it comes with a duty to educate. In 2006, we showed ‘The Eighth Square: Gender, Life and Desire in Art Since 1960’, and I got a call from a mayor who went berserk, accusing us of paying for a ‘gay exhibition’ with taxpayers’ money. The only problem was that the funds came, not from the taxpayer, but from foundations, including The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York. I demanded an apology, especially since the man hadn’t even seen the show. But there is also a repressive brand of liberalism – when politics couldn’t give a damn about what anyone’s doing. This situation is nice only in a superficial way. I think it’s important to earn and to fight for one’s intellectual independence, day by day. I’ll always prefer a left-wing aristocrat to an affirmative petit-bourgeois.”

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