Museums under political control: the case of the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana

Employees of Modern Gallery in Ljubljana sent a request to the Government of the Republic of Slovenia demanding for the gallery's director, Aleš Vaupotič, to resign or be dismissed on the account of alleged negligence and other irregularities.

Employees of the Modern Gallery are asking for the resignation or dismissal of Aleš Vaupotić, current director of the public institution. In a public statement, they accuse Vaupotić of negligence and irregularities which allegedly caused great damage and serious obstacles in the gallery’s functioning, while his inadequate actions are said to have acted to the detriment of employees.

The request was signed by a vast majority of employees: 87.1% of full-time employees (27 out of 31) and 79.4% of all employees (27 out of 34). With the exception of one professional (who was absent due to illness), the museum professionals are 100% represented (16).

According to the request, the director’s resignation or dismissal is demanded on the account of his incompetent professional and administrative management of the public institution, as well as on the account of his inappropriate attitude towards employees:

“A director lacking a developed programmatic vision, one who shows no understanding of a museum as a public institution, expresses ignorance in relation to the basics and international museum standards, with his narrow managerial vision and professionally controversial decisions, lack of management and communication skills does not fulfil the criteria for running a public museum institution. His actions undermine the functioning of Modern Gallery as a public institution, which should work in the public interest, and thus its reputation in the domestic and international (professional) public.”

When it comes to administrative management, the employees point out that the director has no managerial competencies; that he doesn’t understand museum services, their tasks, and the nature of work; shows ignorance in relation to financial operations, and refuses to get acquainted with the work of employees — all of which disrupts the gallery’s operations.

The financial projection for 2022 envisages extremely wasteful financial spending, which doesn’t reflect an increased number of exhibitions and other programs, thus continuing a practice that was already present during 2021 (exemplified in a symposium program organised on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Slovenia’s independence in December 2021). Such wasteful handling of funds is a consequence of professional incompetence, the statement claims.

And that’s not all. Cases of intimidating, humiliating, raising voice at employees, disturbing them, and cases of insulting behaviour – including a situation when a professional collegium was held in silence for half an hour – are just some of the examples of the director’s entirely inappropriate behaviour, which resulted in employees’ extreme dissatisfaction, mistrust, and stress, and in for some even apathy, burnout and a sense of non-belonging to the institution, the statement claims.

For the museum’s employees, going public with all the problems that exist within the institution is a big step. As they say: “Our deep concern for the future of the museum, its reputation and status, its national and international cooperation and professional standards have led us to draw public attention to irregularities in museum management and to make a public request for the resignation of the director and assistant director”.

The request is a consequence of a continuous pressure that the right-wing government in Slovenia has been exerting on public cultural institutions and the independent cultural and artistic scene since its coming to power, on which we reported earlier.

The case of the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana is one of the alarming examples of illegal dismissals in public institutions. The long-time director of Modern Gallery in Ljubljana, Zdenka Badovinac, was, thus, dismissed in 2020.

One of the most progressive museum institutions in the region, famous for initiating numerous critical reviews and new readings of Yugoslav avant-garde art practices of the 20th century and their promotion, as well as organizing socially engaged curatorial exhibitions, thus received a politically appointed acting director, Aleš Vaupotič.

As we wrote earlier, since SDS has returned to power and Janez Janša took the post of Prime Minister at the beginning of 2020, Levica and other opposition critics have accused Janša of degrading Slovenian democracy, disrespecting the rule of law, and controlling the media.

The Modern Gallery was the initiator and a founding member of L’Internationale – a confederation of seven important European art institutions, named after the workers’ anthem “L’Internationale”, which called for a just and democratic society in relation to the historical labour movement. Members of the confederation support actions of the employees of the Modern Gallery.

Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on Mar 11, 2022. 


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