European artists protest budget cuts by destroying their art, including at museums

The World

At the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum, in Casoria, Italy, near Naples, times are tough.

The museum’s art director, artist Antonio Manfredi, says his institution is struggling to make ends meet. He wants to highlight what he considers government indifference to the museum’s financial woes.

So he’s begun burning the museum’s art collection, one piece at a time. The museum has embarked on a controversial campaign to protest budget cuts to the arts.

Manfredi says his contemporary art museum has pleaded for the past seven years with local officials and patrons to provide support. But so far, no luck. So Manfredi came up with what seems like a desperate plan.

“The government cuts the money for institutions, for cultural institution, OK, so we’ll start burning art from the museum,” he said.

He’s totally serious. Last month, he started burning paintings and other works to get some attention. He’s basically holding the art work hostage.

“We destroyed six paintings, some photos, and one wood sculpture, so this is not a joke.”

Manfredi says a similar fate awaits the rest of the museum’s collection if government funding doesn’t materialize. He says he’ll burn three paintings a week.

“If the political institutions don’t think the art and the culture is important for the country, the artists can destroy this art, no problem,” he threatened.

John Brown is all for it. He’s an artist and art director in Wales. He contributed one of his own pieces, made out of paper, to burn in symbolic protest.

“In fact I was working on a piece called ‘Manifesto, which was actually underlying a political statement on our (Welsh) government which makes manifestos that people vote for and when they get into power they scrap the manifestos,” Brown said. “So I made a sculpture, an empty manifesto basically, because it was something that would attract a lot of attention and it actually has.”

Brown says a video of the burning has generated thousands of hits, and mostly supportive comments.

“There is a case to me made that art is important to the human experience and that’s what I believe,” Brown said.

As for those who say the protest is destroying the very art the museum is trying to save, Brown brushes that off. He says art doesn’t have to exist in a physical form — it can live on in your mind. Manfredi’s not backing down either.

“Next we will destroy a marble, abstract, carved sculpture.”

It’s not clear how long Manfredi will keep up the campaign. But Italy’s economy is in serious trouble and more funding for the arts doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.

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