Painter and sculptor Georg Baselitz will step down from his post at the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, a prominent art association in Munich, citing ongoing controversy surrounding remarks about the pandemic from its president, Winfried Nerdinger.
Nerdinger, who has led the academy since July 2019, has been the focus of recent faculty protests since criticizing the lockdown policy in an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung on May 7. During the conversation, Nerdinger said that the government viewed artists as “completely unimportant” due to the temporary closures of art spaces. He also claimed that politicians viewed the arts sector as something that they could “easily do without if necessary or in an emergency.”
In response, 20 academy members released a letter published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung denouncing Nerdinger’s stance, alleging that, as president of the academy, he should not be making these remarks. The group of writers called his statements “thoughtless and cheap,” given the scope of the tragedy of the past year, and demanded that he offer the topics for public debate among academy members. In response, Nerdinger claimed that his interview was intended to communicate personal views, not those of the academy.
Baselitz said he resigned because of the criticism of Nerdinger, not because of the president’s remarks. According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, the artist said that the behavior of the protestors was “disgusting” and that he “does not want to continue sitting under the same roof with these courtiers.”
He also expressed sympathy for Nerdinger’s views. “The federal government has canceled the essential rights of the arts,” Baselitz reportedly wrote in his resignation letter.
Many in the German art world have perceived the way the country has dealt with the pandemic as a problem. In April, Germany’s government initiated a controversial law known as the Infection Protection Act, through which district or towns must undergo lockdown measures if there are more than 100 Covid cases in a seven-day period. Under the law, curfews must be put in place, and arts organizations, including museums, must close.
Baselitz has been among those decrying measures intended to curb the pandemic. In an interview with Welt am Sonntag this past May, he labeled the “horror stories” about Covid seen on primetime news “bullshit.”
The controversy at the Bavarian Academy has split its members. A number of Nerdinger’s supporters released letters accusing his opponents of disloyalty and a lack of solidarity, though the board of directors has since stopped forwarding open letters. A meeting of the academy is scheduled for July, where he hopes to resolve the issue. “I’ll wait and see, we’ll have another general meeting at some point,” he told Bavarian Radio. “At the moment it’s difficult to communicate, that’s a bit difficult.”