Alistair Hudson, former director of the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery, has been appointed the new artistic and scientific chair of the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe.
Hudson will take over his new role from Peter Weibel on April 1, 2023. The ZKM is considered one of the most important and unique cultural institutions in Germany. It was founded in 1989, six years after the birth of the internet, by Heinrich Klotz, a former professor of art history at the University of Marburg. Klotz wanted the ZKM to be the first “digital Bauhaus” – a museum capable of tracing how classical art is merging with the burgeoning digital age. Weibel, who has headed the ZKM since 1999, describes the museum as the “Mecca of media art” because it “combines artistic concepts with forward-looking technologies”.
Hudson said in a statement: “It is a great honor to be able to take on this role at the ZKM, which is currently establishing itself as one of the most important cultural institutions in the world. Above all, I see it as one of the most relevant centers of the arts and sciences, opening new horizons as the world changes at an exponential rate.”
Hudson joined the Whitworth in 2018 from the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, replacing Maria Balshaw, who left to become director of Tate. Hudson was reportedly asked to resign his role in The Whitworth in February 2022 after the gallery hosted an exhibition of work by investigative agency Forensic Architecture titled cloud studies and first displayed in July 2021.
The controversy centered on a pro-Palestinian statement included in the exhibition entitled Forensic Architecture Stands with Palestine. The uproar sparked national headlines and widespread statements of support for Hudson from peers, artists, and museum curators around the world.
Forensic Architecture’s statement of solidarity included the passage: “We believe in this liberation struggle [of the Palestine people in Israel] is intrinsic to other global struggles against racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and settler colonial violence, and we recognize its particularly close ties to black liberation struggles around the world.”
Criticism of the statement was led by UK Lawyers for Israel, a pro-Israel British activist group, which accused Forensic Architecture, Hudson and Whitworth of publishing “factually incorrect and dangerously one-sided” information about the Israeli conflict in Gaza and elsewhere in the region . The statement also accused Forensic Architecture of making “inflammatory misrepresentations regarding recent Israeli military action in Gaza.”
UK Lawyers for Israel listed a number of ways in which Forensic Architecture had misrepresented the reality of the conflict in the Palestinian territories and criticized the agency’s way of relating the plight of the Palestinian people to the global black experience during slavery compared. In response, Forensic Architecture denied allegations that their work was inaccurate.
“All members of Forensic Architecture are shocked and enraged by this blatant punishment and vengeful attempt to suppress solidarity with the Palestinians who continue to face violent human rights abuses and apartheid by Israel in Palestine and beyond,” the agency said in a statement statement published on Twitter.
The British Solicitors for Israel also called for “appropriate disciplinary action” against Hudson, who had assured Nancy Rothwell, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, despite monitoring “obvious inaccuracies” in the exhibition, that he had independently determined the accuracy and legality of those presented Work. British advocates for Israel say a freedom of information request filed by the group revealed no such investigation had been conducted by Hudson. The university, the group claims, responded to its freedom of information request with: “The university has now had the opportunity to consider your request and I can confirm that there is no recorded information relevant to the specific points raised in your request .”
The Manchester Jewish Representative Council, North West Friends of Israel and the Manchester Zionist Central Council also made complaints to the gallery cloud studies Exhibition. The statement issued was subsequently removed and Rothwell issued a public apology before announcing Hudson’s departure.
Hudson’s position led to public endorsement by the International Committee on Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM). “It speaks to the silencing of dissenting opinions by interest groups with capital and influence,” the CIMAM statement said. “By bowing to such outside pressures, the university has compromised the gallery and by extension similar spaces, setting a dangerous precedent for any attempts to give a platform to marginalized voices and speak the truth to oppressive, violent powers.”
An open letter released by more than 100 Manchester University staff also protested the decision to eject Hudson. “It is pernicious and dangerous that the University of Manchester supported the idea that a declaration against Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people was an act of anti-Semitism,” the letter said.
Hudson’s appointment as a German institution comes shortly after the forced resignation of Sabine Schormann, the director of the Kassel-based German arts festival Documenta, amid separate allegations of anti-Semitism. Schormann resigned after the festival’s 15th edition received widespread criticism for an exhibition of Indonesian work that used anti-Semitic tropes.
Speaking on behalf of the University of Manchester, Vice President for Social Responsibility Nalin Thakkar said of Hudson: “I would like to thank Alistair for all his creative work at Whitworth and to recognize the profound impact that work has had on our university and its broader communities. Under Alistair’s leadership, the Whitworth has played a pivotal role in embracing diversity of perspectives and views and using art for positive social change.”