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Arts Council pays price for exhibition

Thomas Hirschhorn answers questions about his controversial exhibition Keystone

Parliament has cut SFr1 million ($880,000) from the annual budget of the Arts Council of Switzerland to punish it for funding a controversial exhibition in Paris.

The decision was taken on Thursday after the Senate rejected a compromise supported by the House of Representatives.

The two houses of parliament have been at loggerheads for the past two weeks over the issue of artistic freedom.

The row was triggered by an exhibition in Paris by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn.

Entitled “Swiss-Swiss Democracy”, the exhibition contains an attack on the justice minister and rightwing People’s Party figurehead, Christoph Blocher. It also takes aim at the country’s system of direct democracy.

One of the more provocative elements is a theatre piece in which someone lifts his leg to urinate on a poster of Blocher.

The Senate, which claimed the exhibition had dragged the country’s “most intimate values” through the mud, voted to cut Pro Helvetia’s SFr34 million budget by SFr1 million.

Artistic freedom

The House of Representatives voted on two occasions against the cut, saying artistic freedom was at stake.

The issue went before a parliamentary conciliation committee, which came up with a compromise figure of SFr180,000 – the amount the Arts Council spent on the Paris exhibition.

This was accepted by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate.

The Senate argued that it would send the wrong message to the Arts Council.

“It’s not just about the Paris exhibition,” said senator Peter Bieri of the Christian Democrats, “but the work of Pro Helvetia.”

Under the constitution, when the two houses fail to agree on budgetary issues, the lowest figure – in this case SFr33 million – is accepted.


In a first response, Pro Helvetia said a collective punishment was an inappropriate way for parliament to demonstrate its displeasure.

It also said the decision called into question the Arts Council’s autonomy.

Pro Helvetia added that the budget cut would not affect the funding of Hirschhorn’s projects, but about 100 other artists supported by around SFr10,000 each.

swissinfo with agencies

The “Swiss-Swiss Democracy” exhibition is taking place at the Swiss Cultural Centre in Paris until January 30, 2005.
Pro Helvetia contributed SFr180,000.
The annual budget of Pro Helvetia is normally SFr34 million.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR