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In what may be the weirdest art story in … well, a while, Scientologists have apparently “infiltrated” the Haus der Kunst, a leading contemporary art museum in Munich. According to Deutsche Welle (DW), Bavaria’s domestic intelligence agency — which is called the Verfassungsschutz, or Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution — is now investigating the situation.
The murky story starts with an accountant who began working freelance for the museum in 1995. Over the past two decades, the man acquired more responsibility at the institution, becoming an “external personnel manager” (still not a full-time employee) with the power to hire people and create shift plans. But some say he abused his power by pressuring staff to join the Church of Scientology and pushing his beliefs in other ways. DW reports on a series of articles in the German-language Süddeutsche Zeitung that includes leaked internal complaints from employees alleging that the man wielded “great psychological pressure” and that “the ideology flows directly into his work.” One claims the man invited three board members to a Scientology center. “Rumors of the Scientology influence on the gallery had reportedly been accumulating among staff, causing an atmosphere of suspicion that was demoralizing members,” DW writes.
And so, Haus der Kunst Director Okwui Enwezor — who curated the main exhibition at the 2015 Venice Biennale — ended the man’s contract last week, and the Verfassungsschutz is investigating. But the story might not end there: apparently, “at least one other member of the gallery’s supervisory committee is thought to have attempted to recruit colleagues,” and state parliamentarian Isabell Zacharias suggests “‘there might even be significantly more Scientologists in the Haus der Kunst.” She’s asking the Bavarian State Ministry for Education, Science, and the Arts to investigate all of the museum’s current management, as well as those who worked under the last two directors.
If that sounds a little extreme, it’s worth noting that Germany takes a hard-line stance on Scientology. Though it’s officially recognized as a church here — only after an assault on the IRS — in Germany, that status isn’t resolved. Many German officials view Scientology as a business, and a nefarious one at that — the country’s intelligence agencies have had it under surveillance for 20 years, and Verfassungsschutz stated in a recent report that Scientology “uses psycho-technologies and the unconditional subjugation of the individual to replace the principle of democracy and basic rights with a totalitarian system of rule under Scientologist leadership.” That sounds … eerily familiar, in a German context, though it’s not clear whether the agency’s assessment is a projection or a protection (or both; the Church of Scientology has allegedly done some very ugly stuff).
Either way, Scientologists in the Haus der Kunst sounds like a great Agatha Christie–meets–Dan Brown thriller that we can’t wait to read! We’ll spend our days waiting for its release by rewatching this.