Danish art academy rector resigns over royal bust drowned by artist protesting school’s colonial heritage

The controversy engulfing the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark’s most prestigious art school, over an abandoned royal bust took a new turn last week when the rector of the university was forced to resign. Kirsten Langkilde quit after Denmark’s culture ministry said ‘new powers’ were needed at the academy.

The move is the latest twist in a saga that began on November 6 when a replica 1950s bust of 18th-century monarch Frederik V on display at the academy was removed and dumped in the nearby canal.

According to the Danish press, the collective known as Anonymous Visual Artists released a video of the bust being thrown into the water. But artist Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld, a postdoctoral fellow at the Academy, later claimed responsibility, telling the newspaper Politics“I took the initiative. I took the bust from the pedestal in the Academy Ballroom. And I pushed him into the harbour.

Frederik V, ruler of Norway and Denmark in the mid-1700s, founded the art school. Dirckinck-Holmfeld said the “event” was intended to spark debate about Denmark’s colonial heritage and its role in the slave trade; she was later fired.

Joy Mogensen, Denmark’s culture minister, released a statement saying the ministry “has failed to reach an agreement to address the challenges at [Academy]. New powers are therefore necessary. The Ministry of Culture and Kirsten Langkilde have agreed that [Langkilde] resign from his post. Now we are giving visual arts schools a fresh start with a new rector.

In a statement posted on the academy’s website the last month before his resignation, Langkilde wrote: “You cannot claim to be above the law on the pretext of creating art. Theft and vandalism remain criminal acts, regardless of the context. I therefore strongly disapprove of Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld’s choices and actions in this matter.

She added: “The Academy is open to teachers and students of all political leanings, including, of course, identity and political attitudes. The Thought Police will never be part of the admissions process into the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. But it is equally clear that no matter how strong one’s beliefs, it is not acceptable to use them to snub or ostracize others or attempt to suppress the free exchange of opinions. Jes Gjørup has been appointed acting rector.

Mildred D. Field