News — Jun 19, 2024

Statement Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam following loan request for Bakunin’s Barricade by Ahmet Öğüt.

On 28 May 2024, the Stedelijk received a loan request for the work Bakunin's Barricade by Ahmet Öğüt, from a collective made up of cultural workers and activists. The collective is extremely concerned about human rights in Gaza-Palestine, and would like to use the work at a forthcoming student demonstration at an Amsterdam educational institution. Driven by these same concerns and our role as a museum – multivocal and with an eye for the social context – we already had plans in place for an upcoming presentation of the work. In spite of that, we were receptive to the request. Although loan requests normally have to be submitted several months in advance, we accelerated the procedure and met with various representatives of the collective on 5 June.

Context of the work

Bakunin's Barricade (2015-2020) was featured in the group exhibition In the Presence of Absence – Proposals for the Museum Collection (5 September 2020–31 January 2021). The museum purchases work presented in these biennial exhibitions, and acquired this installation by Öğüt for its collection.

Bakunin’s Barricade is based on a concept introduced by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. When Prussian troops prepared to crush the socialist uprising in Dresden in 1849, he proposed placing paintings from the National Museum's collection in front of the barricades. Bakunin reasoned that Prussian soldiers would not dare to destroy priceless artworks to breach the barricade. Inspired by Bakunin’s proposal, which was not carried out, Ahmet Öğüt created a barricade made of fences, scrap cars, construction materials and other objects, combined with a number of artworks he selected.

Following previous presentations of this work at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, ZeynoMuhsin Bilge, Istanbul, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen and Kunstverein Dresden, Öğüt installed Bakunin's Barricade at the Stedelijk with artworks by Else Berg, Timo Demollin, Marlene Dumas, Pieter Engels, Nan Goldin, Käte Kollwitz, Jan Th. Kruseman, Kazimir Malevich, and PINK de Thierry from the Stedelijk’s collection.

The contract

The purchase of Bakunin's Barricade by Ahmet Öğüt is accompanied by a contract which stipulates that we, as the buyer, declare our willingness to lend this work to third parties to be deployed as a barricade, if these parties request the loan in the context of extreme economic, social and political transformative moments and social movements that are designed to express serious public concerns regarding fundamental human rights, including those defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We, as purchaser, declare our willingness to negotiate with third parties for the use of at least five artworks from our collection that are part of Bakunin's Barricade. These artworks may also be reproductions.

The contract also stipulates that we as a museum will decide on a case-by-case basis and at our own discretion whether to honor the request, whether and which artworks to make available and under what conditions.

Should the museum not honor a request, it must issue a statement to clarify and explain its considerations in the light of the museum's mission and vision.

Outcome of loan request

In discussions with the applicants, we let them know we were open to their request and offered them two options:

A. The Stedelijk will loan the work, with reproductions instead of original artworks
B. Since, at the time of the application, we already had plans in place for an upcoming presentation of Bakunin's Barricade in the museum, accompanied by a Public Program – an equally important element – in which the installation acts as a catalyst for talks and discussions, we invited the collective to co-design the program.

During conversations with the collective, the applicants made it clear that for them Bakunin’s Barricade was to be shown outside the museum. Although the contract offers the option of using reproductions instead of original artworks, the collective rejected that possibility, as it would be ‘too performative’ for them. They also let us know that they will not accept our invitation to co-curate a Public Program around the presentation of the work at the Stedelijk in the summer of 2024.

Motivations, Stedelijk Museum

First and foremost, what is happening in Gaza is closely monitored and heavily discussed by all of us at the museum. We too are shocked and saddened by the ongoing violence and loss of so many lives.

If a loan request for this important work is rejected, we are obliged to issue a public statement listing our reasons. We want to be transparent about our decision-making even though, after all, we didn’t reject the request and thus are not obligated to disclose this. However, out of respect for applicants’ sincere intentions, we decided to do so.

We always review a loan request on the basis of the content of the work and our role as a museum. The installation was purchased in full awareness of the content and the contract, so we are receptive to requests to borrow the work. In this case, the selected artworks were to be provided in the form of reproductions (this wouldn’t be stated publicly, so the installation’s message would have remained intact). While we regret that the applicants turned down Bakunin’s Barricade in this form, we understand their decision.

Providing original works of art for use in a demonstration clashes with an integral part of our mission and values: to care responsibly for our collection, and to preserve it for future generations. As a museum, we have this role and responsibility.

As a museum our mission is to provide a platform for artists, to offer an engaging exhibition programme, and to create a space for dialogue and debate around it. One of the ways we intend to accomplish this is with an upcoming presentation of Bakunin’s Barricade in the museum where it will be the focus of a Public Program that promotes an open exchange of ideas.

Photo: Peter Tijhuis