The Not Surprised Collective of artists is blasting the leadership of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum over a statement it issued about the group’s request to loan an Ahmet Öğüt artwork for a pro-Gaza protest to protect students from clashes with police.

The museum had acquired Öğüt’s installation Bakunin’s Barricade (2015–22) with a contract that stipulates it can be loaned for the purposes of protests or demonstrations. The sculpture is shaped like a blockade, created with found objects and paintings in the museum’s collection including original works by Nan Goldin, Kazimir Malevich, Käte Kollwitz, among others.

Last week, the Stedelijk Museum said it would fulfill the request, but intended to provide copies of the works in its collection instead of originals because of its responsibility to safeguard its holdings. Its proposal was turned down by the collective.

Now, in a statement, the collective said it was “disappointed, but not surprised, by the decisions of the Stedelijk Museum,” highlighting that the institution’s statement emphasized “the protection of heritage over the protection of students working to end the best-documented crime against humanity in this century.”

“Once again, the museum confirms that an artwork in its collection becomes a commodity, regardless of its (purported) revolutionary potential,” it added.

The museum rejected the characterization that it failed to protect students by not loaning the work and other art from its collection.

“For us it is self-evident that we condemn all violence against defenseless citizens, including students,” the museum said in an email.  However, the literal conclusion that we have failed to protect students cannot be made,” the museum said in an email. “In the context of this loan request: in this situation, we cannot lend the work Barricade with original works of art, it is too much at odds with our responsibility to preserve the collection for future generations.”

But the group also surfaced the fact that the museum sought to provide copies for the demonstration without revealing to the public that they would be fakes—which they alleged amounts to forgery.

“Using replicas would not only be a lie to the public. It would also make Bakunin’s Barricade purely performative, contributing to the aestheticization of politics without putting the actual art pieces at risk,” the statement read.

The collective added that using replicas would violate the spirit of the piece, inspired by an 1849 proposal by revolutionary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin to place paintings from the National Museum in Dresden as a barricade to deter advancing Prussian troops.

“The urgency of the situation in Palestine demands concrete action outside the museum walls, and it is for this reason that we submitted the loan request to the Stedelijk,” it said. “A conversation within the safety of the museum is contrary to the spirit of the work, and to our intentions as a collective.”

The group said that, in response to months of protests by students at universities across the world calling for Israel to end its war in Gaza, police have allegedly used “excessive” violence against student encampments.

“The excessive police violence used during evictions of student encampments in Amsterdam, Groningen, and Utrecht, among other places, shows that these students need effective protective measures. Bakunin’s Barricade can provide this protection,” the collective said. “In fact, it was made to serve this purpose.”

The collective also disagreed with last week’s headline in Artnet News that it “tried and failed” to loan the work. “In our view, the Stedelijk Museum has failed,” its statement said. “It has failed to loan Bakunin’s Barricade now that it really matters.”

Öğüt likewise decried the museum’s position in a new statement, noting that the contract requires the museum to negotiate the loan of works in its collection to be used for the barricade, rather than automatically declining the loan request.

He criticized the museum for invoking “an option added by its lawyers to the contract” that allowed for the possibility of using replicas of the works in its collection when loaning the barricade. The artist suggested that the museum misinterpreted the meaning of the added clause.

“I understood it meant to be for extreme situations when the museum and city are no longer safe for its collection,” Öğüt said. “For example, right now in Kharkiv [in Ukraine], the city is literally bombed every day, making museums unsafe. The original artworks are evacuated to somewhere safe.”

Öğüt lamented that the contract did not clearly specify its terms to prevent the interpretation by the Stedelijk Museum allowing for the loaning of reproductions. And he suggested that other artists would be willing to include their valuable art not held in the museum’s to be used by protesters, if the museum had provided the barricade itself.

“I wish the museum had not proposed the reproduction option,” Öğüt said. “If the museum chose to miss the opportunity to give original works within the concept of my work, I would have preferred the museum to at least loan my part of the barricade, as I had already given consent in the contract.”

In an email, the Stedelijk admitted that there is tension between its duty to safeguard the collection, which does not belong to the museum but is owned by the city of Amsterdam, and its contractual obligations regarding the barricade. However, the museum again contended that it had satisfied the terms of the contract.

“As a museum we are bound by international codes for its preservation,” the museum said, referring namely the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. “This work was purchased in full awareness of the content and the contract, which is why we are open to loan requests for this work and why we have accelerated the application. The contract requires that the museum seriously considers every loan request, which we did. We have kept to the contract, which also offers the possibility of using reproductions. The applicants rejected that option.”

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