A new private art space at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport is currently the subject of protests, with artists in the city accusing the space of being out of touch with what their community wants. The online outcry after artists learned that a private institution, the Foundation for Art and Culture, chaired by the curator Walter Smerling, had been granted access to stage work in the building for the next two years.
On the occasion of the first exhibition at the institution, titled the Kunsthalle Berlin, a group called Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin formed. “Rather than being a considered initiative that is in the interests of the arts and cultural community of Berlin at large (as you might expect from an institution wielding the name, ‘Kunsthalle Berlin’), the new ‘Kunsthalle’ can best be described as a cynical, neoliberal vehicle that will primarily serve to increase the stature and private wealth of all those associated with it,” the group wrote on Instagram.
The writers and circulators of the group’s post took issue with Smerling, who they viewed as old-guard figure who would “hollow out” the Berlin art scene with his “very rich, very white” friends. Boycott Kunsthalle Berlin said it was especially suspicious of him following a 2021 show he organized, “Diversity United” which Vladimir Putin endorsed. A press release by the Berlin artists’ association BBK Berlin claimed that, though the show was given €1 million in public subsidies, artists who participated in the show were denied their fee.
A representative for the Kunsthalle Berlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Kunsthalle Berlin’s first show is a Bernar Venet survey that marks the artist’s largest show of his career. Venet has not yet commented on the boycott and the space.