In an open letter issued Wednesday, artists, curators, and academics decried the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s decision to cancel a performance by the leftist punk band Feine Sahne Fischfilet. Originally scheduled for November 6, the concert was called off earlier this month because the band advocates for “politically extreme positions,” according to the German foundation, which said in a prior release that it aims to be an apolitical institution in line with what current leadership asserts was the Bauhaus’s original goal.
Among those to have signed the open letter are artists Douglas Gordon, Judith Hopf, Anne Imhof (who won the Golden Lion at the 2017 Venice Biennale for her German Pavilion), Willem de Rooij, and Hito Steyerl as well as Josef and Anni Albers Foundation director Nicholas Fox Weber, curator Kasper König, and Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum. Their letter is addressed to Rainer Robra, culture minister and foundation council of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation; Monika Grütters, the federal government commissioner for culture and the media; Peter Kuras, the mayor of Dessau; and Claudia Perren, the foundation’s director.
The letter asserts that Feine Sahne Fischfilet (whose name translates as “fine cream fish filet”) “actively works against rightwing radicalism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, and has become an important actor in eastern Germany’s civil society, especially in its home region Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.” The letter goes on to allege that Bauhaus was, in fact, a political institution—the school was famously shut down by the Nazis in 1932—and that calling off the performance was a misunderstanding of the foundation’s own legacy. (Perren, the foundation’s director, has stated that the Bauhaus School was socially engaged rather than politically aligned.) The foundation’s decision to cancel the performance is “alarmingly forgetful of history,” the letter reads.
Feine Sahne Fischfilet’s performance was to be staged as part of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s ongoing series “zdf@bauhaus,” which broadcasts concerts hosted by the foundation on the German TV channel ZDF. The band’s concert was canceled after the conservative groups Christian Democratic Union and Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) threatened to hold a demonstration at the show. (Feine Sahne Fischfilet has been a vocal advocate of left-wing causes, and previously played at the concert #WirSindMehr in Chemnitz, Germany, a free event held as a protest against racism in the country.) In an interview with the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Perren framed the show’s cancelation as a way of keeping the far-right out of the foundation, saying, “We did not want to offer the right-wing extremists a platform in front of the Bauhaus.”
The decision to cancel the show has proven controversial with critics in the music and art worlds, and commentators are divided over how the foundation should have acted. One member of the AfD has claimed the event’s cancelation as a success. But Feine Sahne Fischfilet will play on, with a performance set for Dessau’s Anhaltinisches Theater instead.
The open letter situates the show’s cancelation within the larger history of resurgences of right-wing political movements in Germany. It concludes:
We are greatly worried about the spread of rightwing populism and rightwing radicalism in Germany and many other countries, throughout Europe and beyond. It is also alarming how casually the integrity of a cultural institution was sacrificed in Dessau. Unlike at institutes of higher education and public media, the supervisory boards of cultural institutions are usually staffed solely with representatives of the government and ministries, which increasingly treat these institutions like subordinate government offices. This is unworthy of the cultural life of a free country. We demand that in the future, at least half of the staff of the supervisory committees of cultural institutions be representatives from civil society. Only in this way can the legacy of the historic Bauhaus be preserved and the slogan currently shown on the Foundation’s promotional material be fulfilled: “The Bauhaus. Not a style, but a stance.”
The full letter, which was emailed today as an e-flux announcement, can be viewed on Change.org.