In the Cities of the Balkans

Public vs Private: Cultural Policies and Art Market in Central and South-Eastern Europe Conference, Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, 4 February – 4 April, 2004

Within the framework of the second part of the Balkan Trilogy project, initiated in 2003 by Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, the conference Public vs. Private: Cultural Policies and the Art Market in Central and South-eastern Europe in Ljubljana took place in early April.

The second partner of the conference is the European network project republicart, which organizes a series of conferences and symposia that take place in 2004 in Vienna, Linz, Ljubljana, London, Lüneburg and Riga.

The concept of the conference was developped by Gregor Podnar and Petrešin-Bachelez within the organisation of the Ckuc Gallery and Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana.

The conference took the initiative to gather the participants around the re-questioning of the apparatus of art institutions and their specific support structures.

The goal was to look at the buffering role of art institutions within the context of the dismantling of the welfare state and cutbacks in arts funding from two distinct regionally oriented perspectives that in geopolitical terms both cross and merge in Slovenia.

In Central Europe (in the conference’s case the more regional framework that links the cities lying between South-Eastern Alps and the Adriatic, has been represented), and South-Eastern Europe, two quite different geographical and historical contexts, the question of the relationship between private and public support for the arts is particularly significance.

Furthermore, recently developed strategies have been introduced within the region, for instance, “private-public partnerships”; therefore the conference also attempted to probe more deeply into the differences between the two sources of support – public and private, in terms of their mechanisms, functions and effects, as well as their mutual rivalry and exclusivity.

The two introductory lectures, held by Marius Babias and Robert Pfaller, presented two different approaches and discourses towards the contemporary political and cultural phenomena, in the region and in general.

Babias offered a political and economical reading of the interest and intervention of the West into South-Eastern Europe, based on history of wars, self-representations of specific parts of the region, and the development of the function of Otherness within the region.

Pfaller, a psychoanalytic and philosopher, who has many contacts with the Ljubljana psychoanalytic school, has introduced his understanding of the lack of resistance in today’s neo-liberal politics and the culture of intimacy.

The self-announced resistance most of the time in fact supports the existing system, Pfaller claimed.

The social imagery we all share within the public sphere is being destroyed, and we bend our personal beliefs according to general trends, although we know that they are stupid.

The first three discussions were devoted to the regional networkof cities that lie between the South-Eastern Alps and the Adriatic.

The participants contributed to an attempt of deeper analysis of the infrastructures of medium-sized urban systems, the common symbolic and financial marketplace, stability of collaborations between the regional art institutions, the inter-regional art market and its position within the international art scene, and the involvement of the cultural policies in urban development and urban concepts of contemporary art.

Within the first panel discussion, the private partnerships of art institutions were introduced. Zdenka Badovinac, director of Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana, presented her views on the collaboration, out of which the business side can (or wants to) learn certain strategies from the cultural side.

Similarly Andreas Schnitzler from Kunsthaus Graz described his job at the department for sponsors and the reaching of a symbiotic relationship between the sponsors and the Kunsthaus.

Franci Zavrl, director of agency Pristop from Ljubljana, showed on the example of the collection 2000+ of Museum of Modern art, which his agency supported, his reasons and interests for sponsor relationships with an art institution.

Angelika Nollert introduced the Siemens Arts Programme, which is an initiative for co-operations with public institutions.

The second discussion circled around urban concepts of contemporary art and the role of the municipalities within them.

Blaz Persin, Head of the Cultural Department of the City of Ljubljana, launched a few actual examples with which the city is concerned at the moment, whereas Riccardo Caldura from Venice and Goran Sergej Pristas, theatre director and editor of magazine Frakcija from Zagreb, presented projects Urbanlab (Marghera/Venice) and Zagreb – the Cultural Kapital 3000, which both promote collaboration of various independent initiatives and create a platform of critical cultural production to emerge without much dependence on the local financial structures, but these activities nevertheless raise the interest of the local governing sector.

In the last discussion of the first day, the inter-regional art market was under debate. The gallerists Sonia Rosso from Turin, Janos Szoboszlai from Budapest and Gregor Podnar from Ljubljana offered three complementary views onto the issue of provinciality against centre, individual initiative against the global art market machinery, and the lack of the local support in the case of Hungary and Slovenia.

Miran Mohar, artist member of the group Irwin, explained how Irwin in fact educated some of their local collectors, and how the governmental support still remains unreliable.

The second day of the conference looked at the relationship between nationally aligned state cultural policies and the possibilities offered by the private sector, as it evolves in the South-Eastern Europe.

The questions that arose in the discussions about the role of the private initiatives and the creation of the art market are also linked to the European Union inclusion and exclusion discourse, and how they influence (or not) on loosening up the local constitutionalisation and structures of individual art centres.

The first discussion about national cultural programs, deregulation processes of state economies and the expectations towards the extension of the EU, examined the potential and actual misunderstanding between the employing of the influence of the EU cultural funding programmes and the existing local cultural systems.

Tomislav Medak, philosopher and cultural activist from Zagreb, contested The European Union its democratisation and socialisation process as a project, where the need to refer to the critical culture production and its transnationality must be highlighted.

The dynamics of production in the South-Eastern Europe as well as its ambiguous resistance towards the external gaze has been presented by Attila Tordai, curator and editor of IDEA arts + society magazine from Cluj.

Vesna Copic, Head of Sector for Cultural Policy and System at the Ministry of Culture of Republic of Slovenia, advocated the need of strong state and strong civil society that only in their mutual interaction can bring about a change in cultural policy.

Dobrila Denegri, curator at MACRO – Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, delivered the results of her research in the lack of legislation of financial support in Italy.

She also described the mission of a small organisation that she runs in Belgrade, and that is devoted exclusively to widen the interaction of the local students and young artists with the international networks, providing workshops and sponsorships for production.

The second discussion focused on the role of private initiatives and the art market from a South-Eastern European perspective.

The civil sector in this particular region grew stronger and the network of non-governmental organisations, i.e. the Soros foundation and its network throughout the whole Eastern Europe, played a successful role in reviving the common values and mobility opportunities, and encouraging the new modes of creativities and the use of new media in arts.

Nebojsa Vilic, director of NGO ‘359°Network for Local and Subaltern Hermeneutics’ from Skopje, discussed the intertwining of public and private interests.

Els Hanappe, Greek gallerist of Belgian origin, and Erden Kosova, critic and curator from Istanbul, traced the diversity of cultural-historical backgrounds, where the evolution of the art market and its networking with the international art world largely benefited, as the cases of Greek and Turkish commercial gallery business showed.

On the other hand, the discussion brought about the facts whether or how the role of the private initiatives has been changing in the last decade as the democratisation of the culture within the broader globalisation process has been advocated, and how the collaboration or partnerships between the public sector and the independent sector operate.

The public interest, the local government involvement, as Erzen Shkololli, artist and co-founder of the Exit Institute for contemporary art from Peja, has explained, is either non-existent or has occurred only recently.

A recurrent and a very important notice during the last two discussions was the fact that not even a private initiative, but the “micropolitics” of an individual, his or her own initiative moves or slowly begins to change existing system.

In fact, this specific individual initiative remains the actual surviving strategy in the cultural fields, where there is a complete lack of governmental support or interest in its activities.