The Van Abbemuseum under political pressure

The director of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Charles Esche, is now seeking support in the fight against local politicians so that the museum's artistic profile can continue.

Charles Esche, director of the Van Abbemuseum.

Recently it has been announced that Charles Esche, the director of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, has accepted the 4th ECF Routes Princess Margriet Award for «his exceptional leadership in rethinking centers and museums of contemporary art as public spaces that show us the power and value of art in engaging with the contemporary world.» But Esche and the Van Abbemuseum are also under heavy pressure from local politicians who want to cut support to the museum and change its nature in an attempt to increase visitor numbers.

Dutch Labour Party representative Arnold Raaijmakers has endorsed a proposal which among other things demands that paying-visitor numbers must more than triple from the current 51,750 to 170,000 and that the museum’s self-generated income must increase by 900,000 Euros to 1,000,000—which in turn will be subtracted from public-money contributions to the museum. This comes in addition to cuts of 200,000 Euros already approved.

In the resolution sent forward to a committee meeting in Eindhoven 18 October, the Van Abbemuseum will be requested to address a broader artistic audience («not just the artistic elite») and re-evaluate its action plan, which currently is based partly on core values such as «radicalism, multiculturalism, hospitality, and development of knowledge.»

Charles Esche and the Van Abbemuseum are responding sharply against the proposal, reacting to Arnold Raaijmakers’ opinions about the museum and his analysis of the profitability of so-called blockbuster exhibitions. On his Facebook page Charles Esche solicited support to avoid the politicians’ destruction of the museum’s profile. He asked the people of Eindhoven to stand up and give their opinions during what was promising to be a decisive meeting at the city hall 18 October. He also requested that people in other countries express their support by writing to the local newspaper Eindhovens Dagblad (, and he asked those having contacts in the Labour Party to advise them that the attacks are coming precisely from that party and to inquire if those people support politicians who demand popularized programming and anti-intellectualism.

As Esche wrote on Facebook, «If we gather enough support on this one day, I believe we still have a chance to win a debate locally that has already been lost at the national Dutch level.»

Kunstkritikk will follow this story with later reports.