Italian museum boss, Corinne Diserens, sacked after leaping to defend a crucified frog
Kippenberger's controversial Feet First
Richard Owen in Rome
The director of an Italian museum that defied the Pope by refusing to remove a modern art sculpture portraying a crucified green frog has been dismissed from her post.
Corinne Diserens, the Swiss head of the Museion museum of contemporary art at Bolzano in the Italian Alps, was “released from her duties with immediate effect” by the new provincial government in Alto Adige after local elections.
The decision was a result of “the difficult financial situation” caused in part by “unauthorised spending”, officials said. Reports indicated that the museum was running a budget deficit of €500,000 (£390,000).
Supporters of Ms Diserens, including Hans Heiss, the head of the local Green Party, said that the real reason was “the row over the frog”.
Ms Diserens maintained that Kippenberger, who died in 1997, considered the work – Feet First – to be “a self-portrait illustrating human angst”.
Pope Benedict XVl took offence while on summer holiday in the mountains near Bolzano, describing the work as blasphemous. The Vatican sent a letter in the Pope’s name to Franz Pahl, the president of the Trentino-Alto Adige regional council (who also opposed the sculpture), saying that it “wounds the religious sentiments of so many people who see in the Cross the symbol of God’s love”.
Mr Pahl went on a hunger strike to demand the removal of the frog, declaring that it was “a grave offence” to the devoutly Roman Catholic population of the area. The museum agreed only to move the sculpture from the entrance to an upper floor.
Ms Diserens remained defiant, saying that “art is always a provocation, and contemporary art is hardly ever understood immediately”. The number of visitors to the museum had increased, “especially the young”, she said.
She was backed by Fabio Cavallucci, the head of the civic art gallery in Trento, who said: “The relationship between art and politics is never an easy one, but to be sacked because of one work of art is really incredible.”
The newspaper La Repubblica said that the row over the Kippenberg frog had damaged the ruling centrist Südtiroler Volkspartei, which in the recent local elections saw its support drop below the 50 per cent mark for the first time, losing its overall majority.
A local far-right party, Die Freiheitlichen, increased its vote from 5 per cent to more than 14 per cent.