Mayor accused of "concealed censorship"

The Helmhaus museum is now standing empty (swissinfo) Mark Ledsom

The mayor of Zurich is being accused of censorship following the last-minute cancellation of a controversial art exhibition.

This content was published on August 30, 2002 - 12:45

Titled "Capital Affair", the work was to involve a cheque for SFr50,000 ($33,400) being hidden in Zurich's Helmhaus museum.

Members of the public would then be invited to search the museum for the money - which comprised the entire budget of the exhibition.

But the organisers had not reckoned on the intervention of Zurich mayor Elmar Ledergerber who effectively pulled the plug on the exhibition less than two hours before the planned official opening.

"The mayor said he would allow the exhibition to go ahead," explains Helmhaus curator Simon Maurer, "but only with a reduced budget, and consequently a reduced finder's cheque, of SFr 20,000."

The artists behind the exhibition, Christoph Büchel and Gianni Motti, refused the offer - claiming that a smaller cheque would lessen the impact of their work.


Describing the original 'prize' as "unjustifiable" in the current economic climate, Ledergerber says he cannot be accused of censorship because he was still prepared to let the exhibition go ahead.

That argument has in turn prompted Büchel to speak of "concealed censorship" while his Italian collaborator describes the situation as "not worthy of a civilised country".

"I have to abide by the decision because the Helmhaus is funded entirely by the Zurich arts council with the mayor at its head," Maurer told swissinfo with a shrug.

"I experienced the same thing seven years ago when the former mayor, Josef Estermann, banned an exhibition which he considered pornographic. I never thought anything like that would happen again - but it has."

Staying open

Looking to salvage something from his latest setback, Maurer has decided to keep part of the museum open for the remainder of the exhibition's one-month 'run'.

By allowing visitors in to see the rules originally set out by the artists and letting them read what happened next, Maurer hopes at least to provoke discussion on the often-strained relationship between artists and politicians.

"It's not the story that we originally planned to tell, but it's an interesting story nonetheless," insists the curator. "We'll have to see whether people still come along, without the lure of the money."

A debate on the issues raised by the mayor's decision is also scheduled to take place at the museum in September with artists, intellectuals and politicians all invited to talk.

Visitors who just want to drop by the Helmhaus and contemplate the money they could have won, can do so until September 29.

by Mark Ledsom, Zurich

Museum row

The "Capital Affair" exhibition would have allowed members of the public to hunt for a hidden cheque worth SFr 50,000.

Zurich mayor Elmar Ledergerber said the idea was "unjustifiable", and said he would reduce the budget to SFr 20,000.

Artists Christoph Büchel and Gianni Motti have refused the mayor's offer - claiming it would lessen the impact of their work.

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