Sophia Süßmilch’ Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in (2024) taking place in a former Dominican church as part of the show
Courtesy Sophia Süßmilch and Kunsthalle Osnabrück. Photo: Lucie Marsmann
A group exhibition at the Osnabrück Kunsthalle in northwest Germany has come under fire from local politicians who claim it is “absolutely unacceptable both in terms of content and visually.” Members of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) in the state of Lower Saxony issued a press release on Saturday afternoon calling for the exhibition Kinder, Hört mal alle her! (Kids, listen up!), which touches on themes including domestic violence and cannibalism, to be boycotted and shut down.
The statement was sent out a few hours before the exhibition’s public opening (a press preview took place two days earlier). The missive, quoted in the German press, states that it is “incomprehensible how such an exhibition could be approved at all.” Writing in the left-leaning daily Die TAZ, the journalist Harff-Peter Schönherr says that such wording implies the CDU believes exhibitions should be subject to official approval—a form of “censorship”, he says, that is unconstitutional.
The kunsthalle’s co-directors Juliane Schickedanz and Anna Jehle told The Art Newspaper that the institution found out about the missive through the press.
According to the museum, the programme deals with child-rearing, trans-generational conflicts, and connecting with one’s inner child. The show also touches upon topics such as domestic violence, miscarriages, and childlessness. The kunsthalle says it issued a content warning for the exhibition and identified works which are not suitable for children. It adds that it also enlisted an awareness team, which was available for viewers during a performance, for which viewer discretion was advised.
It was that performance that particularly drew the politicians’ ire. The work by Sophia Süssmilch, which took place in a former Dominican church, references cannibalistic scenes in fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel and Francisco de Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son (1819-23).
According to Osnabrück's CDU parliamentary group leader Marius Keite, “Such depictions are not only unacceptable for children, but also for adults.” The CDU’s criticism was vehemently rejected in a statement by the joint council faction of the Green and the Volt parties, saying “We are happy to leave the aesthetic assessment to others, but not the defence of artistic freedom”.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary group expressed similar views on Monday afternoon after a visit to the kunsthalle. “How can it be that a council faction thinks it can exert such a radical influence on artistic freedom and call for a boycott of the kunsthalle?”, said Heiko Schlatermund, cultural policy spokesperson for the SPD parliamentary group in Osnabrück council, according to the German news agency DPA. “Whether we as responsible politicians like something or not is not a question of aesthetics—our job is to make art and culture possible.”
The institution responded to the call for closure with a statement on the irrefutability of artistic freedom. “We also invited the political representatives (from all parties) to the kunsthalle to view the exhibition together and engage in dialogue. This invitation was accepted,” the co-directors told The Art Newspaper.