A museum’s ‘sexist’ decision to cancel the appointment of a female director sparked an uproar on the Brussels art scene


A scandal erupts among the senior officers of the new Kanal-Center Pompidou in Brussels after the board of directors overturned an independent jury’s decision to appoint Kasia Redzisz, currently senior curator at Tate Liverpool, as artistic director.

The board of directors opposed the decision of the jury, made up of a panel of experts including the directors of the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Reina Sofia, and unilaterally appointed museum veteran Bernard Blistène to co-pilot the artistic direction with Redzisz.

Blistène is currently director of the Center Pompidou in Paris, where his term is due to expire later this month. He has been working with the institution on its artistic programming for three years.

Members of the European art world, including artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar and ARGOS museum director Niels Van Tomme, signed a open letter denounce the council’s decision. The statement claims that it was an “open secret” that Blistene had been promised the job at Kanal, and denounces the board’s decision to pair a competent candidate with an older man as “an offensive act of sexism and a flagrant insult to her expertise and abilities”.

The new Brussels institution is the result of a 10-year partnership between the Center Pompidou in Paris and the Brussels-Capital Region. The search for the artistic director of Kanal-Center Pompidou was underway as the institution was preparing to fully open in spring 2024 after a six-year “test drive” period. Following an open call for applications, the jury reduced the pool of nearly 40 candidates to seven, all invited to develop their artistic vision for the institution, as well as its future partnership with the Center Pompidou.

Bernard Blistène. Photo © Thibauld Chapotot, courtesy of Kanal-Center Pompidou.

After interviewing the seven candidates, the 10-person jury voted on their choice. Four voted for Blistène: bthe president of the board Michèle Sioen, the current head of mission of Kanal-Center Pompidou Yves Goldstein, and two external experts, the director of MAC VAL Alexia Fabre and the director of Reina Sofia, Manuel Borja Villel-Manolo. The other six jurors voted for Redzisz: the members of the board of directors Isabel Van Raemdonck and Hervé Charles, the artistic director of the CIVA museum Nikolaus Hirsch, director of the Africa Museum Bambi Ceuppens, director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Iwona Blazwick, and director of the Marseille Festival Jan Goossens.

While the majority of votes were in favor of Redzisz, the board of directors made their “strange and unexpected” decision to appoint two artistic directors, a proposal that had never been on the table. It also did not offer a clear division of labor.

“During the hearings in front of the jury, it was obvious that the two profiles of Kasia Redzisz and Bernard Blistène could form an incredible and fantastic collaboration to work together to create the artistic vision of Kanal”, declared a spokesperson for the institution. at Artnet News.

“The fact that they both remained the last candidates in the running before the jury without unanimity for one or the other, pushed the management of Kanal to take the initiative to propose to Kasia Redzisz and Bernard Blistène the he idea of ​​collaborating together, thus combining experience and an innovative approach, new ideas and seasoned museum management, modern curatorial practice and in-depth knowledge of the collections of our partner, the Center Pompidou.

The spokesperson said Redzisz and Blistene accepted the joint nomination, which was ratified by a board vote. The director of the institution, Yves Goldstein, a former politician who had previously worked on a museum board, was tasked with working with the new artistic directors on a collaboration scheme to present to the board of directors. in September.

The open letter denounces the board’s decision and its subsequent announcement of the joint nomination to the press as a “major deception”. He explains how the jury appointed Redzisz as its sole artistic director and asked that this decision be honored by the board of directors.

“She is a competent and experienced woman and there is no doubt that she would not be perfectly capable of doing this job on her own,” he said. the Brussels-Capital Region to fight against “sexism and the lack of integrity, good governance and transparency” at stake.

“The time is up for boys playing dirty power games at the expense of women’s professional careers,” he said.

A source with knowledge of jury procedures, who asked not to be named, said there were “objective” reasons for selecting Blistene for the post. “The whole jury was clear that he is a competent man with an impressive CV, but the majority of the jurors were also very clear that they did not see him at the head of this new artistic institution. from Brussels. as the first art director, ”the source said, adding that Redzisz’s proposal was the“ most competent ”and“ most visionary ”of the pool. “It seems fairly clear to me that the institutional link between the Kanal and the Center Pompidou played a role and it is also clear, without saying more, that there was a proximity between Blistène and the top of the Kanal.

Other members of the Brussels art scene see in the drama another sign of the inability of the art world to shake up the status quo. “I believe it is both linked to this project led by a politician [Goldstein] little knowing the art and the culture which can not therefore oppose anything to the suggestions of Pompidou, but also how difficult it is to create new situations even when an institution is new. The strength of the status quo is such that it takes gigantic efforts to shake it, even slightly, ”Anne Pontégnie, former chief curator of another Brussels institution, WIELS, told Artnet News.

“The shame here is that the building and the multicultural reality inherent in Brussels offer the perfect playground for the invention of a new institution as a collective place of sharing, exchange, to develop together the tools of a life in common that we must rebuild.

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