Are three heads better than one? How to run a museum as a collective

What, How & for Whom (WHW) members Sabina Sabolovic, Natasa Ilic and Ivet Curlin take equal share in running the Kunsthalle Wien Courtesy of WHW

Three heads are better than one at Viennas Kunsthalle. The directorship of the contemporary art venue has been filled since last June by Natasa Ilic, Ivet Curlin and Sabina Sabolovic, three members of an all-female curatorial collective with equal powers and responsibilities. In January, they unveiled their first exhibition programme, which seeks to take the Kunsthalle Wien in an experimental new direction.

Ilic, Curlin and Sabolovic are together known as WHW—What, How & for Whom—an expression that comes from Karl Marxs Communist Manifesto. Marx was referring to the economics of the means of production; WHW formed in 1999 in Zagreb, Croatia, to pose similar questions about art.

Their appointment in Vienna follows the sudden resignation of the Kunsthalles previous director, the German curator Nicolaus Schafhausen, who left last March citing concerns over resurgent nationalist politics in Austria. The federal government had shifted rightwards under chancellor Sebastian Kurz, even though the city of Vienna—which funds the Kunsthalle—continues to be led by Social Democrats.

After considerable discussion, the city agreed to replace Schafhausen with WHW. While curating by committee is a common approach in international biennials (most notably, ten members of Indonesias Ruangrupa artist collective are organising the next Documenta quinquennial in 2022), the Kunsthalles co-directing arrangement remains a rarity in the museum world.

The Art Newspaper interviewed Ilic, Curlin and Sabolovic together, since they prefer their responses to be ascribed to the collective. Although all three work full-time, they confirm that “we are sharing two salaries”.

WHW describe the unorthodox situation as “an experiment in institution-building”. They explain: “When you have been working as a collective for 20 years, discussion and exchange is really the basis of your work method. We are tying to demystify curatorial and managerial work and think about it in more democratic terms. Ours is a progressive model.”

The Kunsthalle Wien © Kunsthalle Wien. Photo: Jorit Aust

Founded in 1992, the Kunsthalle Wien is a large exhibition space with no permanent collection. How does a triumvirate lead such a venue in practice? Surely much more time is spent on meetings and co-ordination? To whom do the 35 staff report? WHW say: “We dont have specific tasks, so no one is in charge of something. Decision-making is at the level of the collective. We have a single email address for staff [to contact us].”

WHW also plan to overhaul the public face of their institution. The Kunsthalle Wien has been located since 2001 in the 18th-century former imperial stables in what is now Viennas MuseumsQuartier. They describe the building as an “art bubble” and want to developRead More – Source