Given the the current context, I write you today to share my decision to suspend the Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art, through the following press release:
“Le Meurice is very committed to respecting the convictions of the artists it has supported for many years, and therefore suspends the attribution of its Prize for Contemporary Art.
By mutual agreement with the members of the Jury, Franka Holtmann, General Director of the hotel, made this decision despite the deep and sincere interest she has always shown in the artists, galleries and personalities of the art world who have been driving the Prix Meurice for contemporary art to grow since 2008. »
This decision seems to me to be the most reasonable, although I take it with great regret.
On Wednesday, April 10, 2019, a small group of artists and curators invited artists and gallery owners in a call for testimonies and positions in order to obtain the suspension of the Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art, whose hotel of the same name belongs to the Sultan of Brunei. Only a few days after the beginning of this initiative, hotel Meurice, through its director Franka Holtmann, announced its decision to suspend the Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art. This unprecedented event in France is a powerful example of how cautious institutions are about their public image and how they can help us to better think about the ways in which we can act in future struggles. For all these reasons we wanted to share with you the story by the authors of this initiative, Virgile Fraisse and Georgia René-Worms.
E-mail sent on April 10, 2019 to 31 galleries and 17 artistsFor about ten days, hotel Le Meurice had been depriving us of sleep. On 3 April 2019, the last phase of the new Shariah Penal Code entered into effect in Brunei. This includes the death penalty by stoning for homosexual relations and extramarital sexual relations, public flagellation for the voluntary interruption of pregnancies and amputation of a hand for theft.
Faced with the adoption of this text, many public figures, the United Nations, LGBTQIA+ communities and many others had called for a boycott of the luxurious establishments owned by the Sultan. It seemed important to us that the artistic community should also take a stand. In the current state of the policies of the Sultanate of Brunei it seemed inconceivable to us that the art world should continue to work, collaborate, with the hotel Le Meurice.
The deadline for submitting applications for the 12th edition of the 2019/2020 Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art was set for 19 April. It was with this urgency that we contacted anonymously from the Meurice 4 Stoning mailbox all the galleries that had competed, i.e. 31 applications since 2013 – the date on which the situation in Brunei is known to all.
Of these 31 galleries, 5 answered us to learn our identity, an identity that we presented to them, indicating that an anonymous signature allowed us to open a dialogue. Of these 5 galleries, two requested an appointment to discuss and present their points of view. A total of 17 artists were contacted, 4 responded, and of these 4 individuals, 2 offered to testify directly.
By inviting artists, critics, exhibition curators, gallery owners, directors of institutions, we wanted to highlight the contradictions inherent to the future of the Meurice Prize. How could we continue to defend a progressive agenda: feminist, queer, anti-racist, pluralist and serve as make-up, ointment, to an assassin sultan. The Meurice Prize, which is awarded each year to a young artist for the construction of his individual and collective future, should no longer be financed by the money of a repressive state.
In launching this call we wanted to stress that our approach was anti-racist and that we refused any form of recovery from our struggle for Islamophobic purposes.
By uniting an engagement with a text supported by a large part of the contemporary art community and actors of the Meurice Prize, it seemed relevant to us that the Meurice Prize Clause 10 stipulating that “Le Meurice reserves itself the right to extend, shorten or cancel the present Meurice Prize for contemporary art if circumstances so require; its responsibility cannot be engaged as such, (…)” may be applied.
As early as Wednesday, we informed Claire Moulène, Artistic Advisor for Le Meurice, of our initiative. She told us that they were currently discussing this subject with Le Meurice and the members of the jury. The statement sent out at the end of the afternoon by the management of the hotel Meurice shows that decisions are converging towards awareness for a more ethical art economy and that it is no longer possible today to use artists as a cultural varnish.
Although this decision by the organizers is extremely laudable, we remain surprised that it comes so late, 6 years after the Sultan’s first announcements. This worrying silence echoes the artists’ difficult position regarding their financial dependence on systems of which they are not necessarily politically united.
Virgile Fraisse et Georgia René-Worms
Human Rights Watch
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