Chris Dercon, an art historian and documentary film maker, will leave the Tate Modern in 2017, after directing the museum for six years and overseeing a building expansion. He will direct Berlin’s Volksbühne, or “People’s Theater,” which has been led by Frank Castorf since 1992. The decision to hire Dercon, a Belgian national with much curatorial but little theater experience, seems surprising, especially given Volksbühne’s rich history in Germany’s cultural fabric. (Dercon does have a degree in theater studies, but no experience leading performance institutions.) Opened in 1914 to stage plays affordable for the working class, Volksbühne was severely damaged amidst World War II, and rebuilt in the 1950s. It has since become known as a center for discourse-driven “post-dramatic” theater. Even in Berlin, where the burgeoning theater scene is healthily state-funded, there’s not much overlap with the city’s art world, adding to the confusion about hiring a director of a fine arts institution to lead a theater. As Volksbühne is also a considerably smaller institution than the Tate Modern, this seems potentially a step down for Dercon–by any logic, the paring seems weird.
Die Zeit reports that with Dercon’s appointment will also come a significant budget increase–up to 22 million Euro–and the possibility to use the former Nazi airport Tempelhof as an additional venue. Die Zeit points to Dercon’s history of cross-genre cultural programming at Tate, and previously Haus der Kunst in Munich, as a draw to Berlin’s mayor and cultural senator, Michael Müller, who hired Dercon. Dercon also designated the Tate’s newly expanded Tanks as a site for live performance, perhaps also adding to his qualifications for the Volksbühne position.
What are your thoughts on Dercon’s hire?
*Image of Chris Dercon courtesy rbb-online.de