KAFKA    AT THE    M U SE U M ,   A T R U E I N SI D E ST O R Y                                                           ...
Anyway, Pietromarchi explained that MACRO would be certainly up to quickly respond tosignals, blending them on the interna...
Second, he stressed that funds had been eventually provided, after all, so Mr. Barberoshould have just waited a little mor...
of these was certainly his Deputy Mayor Umberto Croppi, in charge of the city’s culturalheritage, and of communication. A ...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5

Kafka at the museum - OR - Why I'm NOT a friend of foundations for Italian museums


Published on

A first version of this essay - focused on new museum policies at MACRO, the Contemporary Art Museum of the City of Rome - has been posted to my blog MuseumStudies on Tumblr (5, 6, 7, and 11 July 2011) under the name “Kafka at MACRO, the true inside story - OR - How Not To Run A Museum (Act 1-4)”.

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Kafka at the museum - OR - Why I'm NOT a friend of foundations for Italian museums

  1. 1. KAFKA AT THE M U SE U M , A T R U E I N SI D E ST O R Y by Alessandro CalifanoLaunched on 4 July 2011 at MACRO to present to the media the museum’s new director,Mr. Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, succeeding to Mr. Luca Massimo Barbero, yesterday’s pressconference has been interesting for some of what has been said, as well as for some thathasn’t - and also, maybe, for the absence of some of the participants being expected: theMayor of Rome, Alemanno, and the Manager of the City’s Cultural Heritage Department,Mr. Broccoli, who were announced, but both did not come.They sent their greetings, of course – everybody does, why shouldn’t they? – but basicallyit’s been a two-men-show: Mr. Pietromarchi himself, and Mr. Dino Gasperini, DeputyMayor of Rome, in charge of the city’s cultural heritage, and of its historical downtownarea. Mr. Gasperini introduced the absence of the Head of the Cultural HeritageDepartment, assuring that his staff, however, was present au complet – to which half of thefirst row uneasily stirred, grinned, and somewhat sheepishly nodded.Much has been said, described, and promised – as is usual in such settings: to wrap it allup in brief, cultural programmes are part politics, part funds, but often, there’s lots of blah-blah involved, as well. Who cares for a sketchy description of the event might be interestedin looking under hash-tag “#MACRO” at my tweets about the conference, yesterday.Here, however, I’d like to focus not so much on the formal investiture of the new director -Mr. Gasperini said he felt honoured presenting to the city such a high calibre figure as thenew director, and also a little awed, if he compared the director’s cv to his own (and rightlyso, I daresay: Gasperini’s official CV ON THE City Council’s web site merely mentions thathe has been the Christian Democratic party secretary in the S. Saba rione of Rome as a 19-years-old lad, and a few other political milestones – really not too much to explain whyhe’s been chosen to politically represent and guide the cultural heritage policies of a citylike Rome) – but rather on the funding (mis?)procedures assuring a budget to MACRO.MACRO’s new Director, Mr. Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, started his opening remarksmentioning the prestigious new structures recently added to the already existing ones inRome, the new MACRO Annex and MAXXI being the top two new entries, and the tickingswing on Rome’s contemporary art scene. It was the best moment, perhaps – he said – tocatch the (perfect?) wave, picking up the challenge and connecting all stakeholdersinvolved in this sector.True, it seems to me that almost everyone else, except those having heavy petrodollars toback them, is slowly sobering up from the pre-2008 prima-donna architects’ extravaganzas– but Rome, as an old lady, is perhaps entitled on being a bit slower on catching up trends.
  2. 2. Anyway, Pietromarchi explained that MACRO would be certainly up to quickly respond tosignals, blending them on the international scene, opening up to the local community, andmerging with different approaches. Though he didn’t draw a full agenda for the museum,yet, he mentioned that his idea of cultural policies and the role of the museum was one ofintegration, of its being a hub – focusing on comparison, education, and production – tosupport the artists’ community.That’s not a bad idea, at all I’d say. Inclusiveness and networking are something I’m alwaysready to strongly approve and support. The problem is – since “the devil is in the details”as Aby Warburg liked to say – how you do that. Speaking of collective trends and high-flying goals is quite OK. Mentioning the need to quickly proceed setting up a Foundation“as an universally well known tool that cannot be renounced, in order to act quickly andeffectively also towards private citizens, even imposing one’s own cultural agenda”, onthe other hand, sounds much less convincing.Sure, it may be good and proper for a Foundation – especially a private one, marked byprivate funds and a (relative) control by a public establishment. But I’m really not sure if amuseum should feel represented by such a mission. For all I know, a museum still is “anon-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open tothe public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangibleand intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education,study and enjoyment”, as it has been defined by ICOM at its 21st General Conference inVienna, Austria, in 2007…However, Kafka’s Türhüterlegende (“Before the Law”, 1915) truly came to my mind onlyafter Mr. Pietromarchi had finished describing the setting where the museum was going tohatch, and word had been given to the media.Among the questions asked by journalists – since it was of almost general knowledge thatthe previous Director of MACRO, Luca Massimo Barbero, had resigned after months offinancial stand-by and uncertainty – one of the first was about the budget. How come, itwas asked, that the City Board was ready to approve that very night the budget – as DeputyMayor Gasperini had just announced – and to draw the museum institution decree, andthe charters of services provided and quality as well, assured to be completed by the end ofthe month? How was this sudden change of pace to be explained, since that very sameBoard had seemed to have been almost missing in action during the long previous monthsthat forced Mr. Barbero to resign?To this, Mr. Gasperini gave basically three answers. First of all, he recalled having steppedinto office only in mid-January this year, so he was not responsible for what had or had notbeen previously done by his predecessor. This is only half true, since Rome’s Mayor, and avast part of the City Board Mr. Gasperini is part of, remained the same.
  3. 3. Second, he stressed that funds had been eventually provided, after all, so Mr. Barberoshould have just waited a little more and he would have got them. This, precisely, was thepoint that reminded me of Kafka’s “Before the Law”, and it might be useful to quote herethe plot’s summary (from Wikipedia): “A man from the country seeks the law and wishesto gain entry to the law through a doorway. The doorkeeper tells the man that he cannotgo through at the present time. The man asks if he can ever go through, and thedoorkeeper says that is possible. The man waits by the door for years, […] until he isabout to die. Right before his death, he asks the doorkeeper why even though everyoneseeks the law, no one else has come in all the years. The doorkeeper answers ‘No one elsecould ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going toshut it.’ ”. Commenting this, in the context we are talking about, appears superfluous…As his third answer, Mr. Gasperini, said – with a certain compunction – that the CityBoard had to cope with the large overspending the previous Board, lead by Mayor Veltroni,had left as a burdensome heredity to the present one. I must here admit that I’m notparticularly near to the previous Mayor’s policies. On the contrary, I found him personallyrather “lightweight”, and many policies of his Board frankly fanciful. That said – andwithout even taking into account the quite debated truthfulness of that overspending – Ithink that using this issue as an alibi, after three years of the present City Board being incharge (and having been lavishly granted previously unheard of extraordinary funds by thecentral government in the meantime), means either to be telling a flat out lie – or toconfess the present Board is utterly inapt as a public manager. Both of which might easilyapply, I guess.So, in order to “put Lenin back on his feet”, as Rudi Dutschke might have said in thiscontext – or to put Kafka back on the bookshelf, and out of the museum – let us now herecomment the present setting, how we came to it, and what the future (just maybe, but thelikelihood thereof is quite strong) could keep in stock for the contemporary art-and-museum scene in Rome. The roots of the Changing of the Guard that brought the CityBoard to miss the approval date for the budget (usually set for the 31 December of eachyear – but last year’s budget had been approved with months’ long delay as well) sinkindeed deeply into the shaky terrain of Italy’s politics.When the co-founder of Berlusconi’s governing party – Gianfranco Fini – abandoned theprimary incorporator in early November 2010, the destinies of the depreciated regime ofthe old, unfit media-tycoon seemed to be written down in block letters. However, thedecision to wait for a full month before the Parliament could vote for or against the motionof no confidence, left time enough for tempers to rise, and for the Government to bring onits side – with tangibly convincing arguments – MPs enough to pass the crisis.Rome’s Mayor, Alemanno – a “heavy” ally of Berlusconi, though originally belonging to thesame post-Fascist political area as Fini – had now to reassess the City Board’s situation,since previous allies might now be less reliable as they were considered being before. One
  4. 4. of these was certainly his Deputy Mayor Umberto Croppi, in charge of the city’s culturalheritage, and of communication. A wide-travelled, experienced and bright professional,Mr. Croppi – who had been in charge of the winning electoral campaign of Alemanno in2008 – was a rather atypical right-wing representative, and ideally contiguous toGianfranco Fini’s political line, whose new party Futuro e Libertà (“Future and Freedom”)he had joined in November 2010.A long uncertain moment followed also at City government’s level, and this made thepreparation of following year’s budget (always an occasion for intensive chaffers) aparticularly unfeasible option. The situation changed after Mr. Alemanno went to visitBerlusconi at his residence in Palazzo Grazioli. Now, why on Earth a Mayor should ask aPrime Minister for assent (or was it permission?) before reorganizing his staff and Board isa glorious mystery only to be properly understood in some tribal setting… or among theSopranos.But so far, so good. Early in January this year, the Mayor asked the whole Board to resign,proceeding afterwards to hand out the delegated charges to a new Board, from which –Hocus-Pocus! – Mr. Croppi was excluded, while in came Mr. Gasperini, from Berlusconi’sparty area. Resisting, as an earthen pot among iron ones, was probably to be consideredunlikely from start for Luca Massimo Barbero, previously placed at the head of MACRO byMr. Croppi himself. After a few months of vain promises and tight purse’s strings, Barberowas de facto forced to resign.So, now MACRO has a new director, probably a new budget – though a reduced one:around 2 M € of the approximately 5 M € of estimated budget needed (but a very latebudget helps out – you only need to cover half a year’s expenses) – and a strong strivetowards the institution of a new ad hoc Foundation to run the museum. As I’ve alreadymentioned above, I’m not at all convinced of the last one’s advisability. Foundations havebeen proved to be very useful tools for taking care of a certain mission – also a culturalheritage related one – endowed by individuals, families, or organizations. However, theyare intrinsically very opaque institutions, having pretty few requirements set by existingItalian laws. There is no duty to present a full budget, for one – explaining where one’smoney comes from, for instance – since this could mean disclosing sensitive data, e.g.about a sponsor’s ideological preferences.No wonder Italian parties have been using foundations since at least 1998 to promote theircultural activities – there’s a rich variety of internal jobs to assign and harvest, and thefreedom of its internal organization is almost uncontrolled. There is nothing to prevent afoundation to disclose data like who paid for what, of course – but to shift from a public,relatively transparent institution like a municipal art museum to a semi-private (funds torun MACRO’s Foundation would be mostly private) and largely opaque one, relying on thefair play of boards and individuals, doesn’t seem to be a particularly clever idea.Or is it, just maybe, too clever?