Why she won’t become an art professor in Essen

The report has made the rounds on the international culture websites:

The US artist, musician and film director Laurie Anderson (“Heart Of A Dog”) will not take up her guest professorship at the Folkwang University in Essen. Her short-term cancellation is a reaction to a long-distance dispute between the Essen university management and the “O-Superman” performer. Anderson is one of the supporters of the authors of a 2012 letter from Palestinian artists entitled “Letter Against Apartheid”.

The decision, which was carefully noted by renowned newspapers such as the Guardian and the New York Times, came a few days before the announcement that Anderson would be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Grammys. Another affront after international artists made statements that were classified as “anti-Israel” by officials in Germany.

To the background:

The Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen said it had held various “discussions” with Anderson after her name emerged among the thousands of artists who had supported the open letter calling for “an immediate and unconditional cessation of Israeli violence against Palestinians” was called for.
For its part, the university said it believes that arts, culture and science are places “where contentious issues such as these should not be escalated.”

The university statement continues: “It has now emerged that Laurie Anderson publicly supported the Palestinian artists’ ‘Letter Against Apartheid’ call in 2021, which, among other things, takes up boycott calls from the anti-Israel BDS movement. “In view of the now public question about her political stance, Laurie Anderson has decided to retire from the professorship.”

The statement also included comments from Anderson. “For me, the question is not whether my political views have changed. The real question is this: “Why is this question even being asked?” said Anderson. “Due to this situation, I am withdrawing from the project.”

The decision came weeks after the announcement that Anderson would be the second artist after Marina Abramović to take on the Pina Bausch visiting professorship at the university. “Throughout her storied artistic career, Laurie Anderson has created groundbreaking works – in the visual arts, theater, experimental music and technology alike,” the university said in a statement at the time. “Laurie Anderson is celebrated for her innovative work that combines music, performance art and technology to push the boundaries of artistic expression.”

The case in Essen shows how thin-skinned high culture currently treats one another. The fuse has become short – between boycotts made with great aplomb between rejections and counter-boycotts or insulted nights.

Laurie Anderson recently turned down – Palestine and Israel – from the renowned “Hirshhorn Museum” in Washington, which wanted to organize a large, elaborate retrospective of her work.

She declined because, to put it bluntly, she doesn’t feel like historicizing her works.

She has been busy for about 50 years, she said at the time, dragging her keyboards and experimental violins around the world to perform huge bonanzas of lasers, noise loops and imploring monologues. She performs her avant-garde compositions in a voice “that lies somewhere between slam poetry, news tones and bedtime stories” (“New York Times”).

She would have “philosophical reservations” about a retrospective about herself. At 74, she doesn’t want to stop and look back. “That’s the paradox of Laurie Anderson: what makes her worthy of a retrospective also essentially makes her retrospective-proof,” said a “NYT” comment.

Especially in the international art dialogue, the official German position on the Middle East issue is apparently too static to lead an open and sometimes problematic dialogue. Dealing with “difficult egos” individually is also becoming more and more difficult. After the shipwreck at Documenta, it seems urgently advisable to clarify positions in advance of guest appearances. This could be an exciting process. Backroom decisions are not helpful. They are making the already difficult situation worse.