El Museo del Barrio Drops Plan to Honor German Socialite
El Museo del Barrio in Harlem, the country’s oldest museum devoted to Latino art, announced on Thursday that it was rescinding a decision to honor a princess from Germany at its upcoming 50th anniversary gala.
Longtime admirers of the museum had criticized the choice to honor Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, a 58-year-old socialite who lives in a 500-room palace in Regensburg, Germany, and is known for her connections to archconservatives who complained that Pope Francis is too liberal. They include Roman Catholic officials and Stephen K. Bannon, the chief executive of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign, who has forged relationships with far-right political parties in Germany and France.
Some questioned what Princess Gloria had in common with an institution that was started inside a public school classroom by a group of Puerto Rican artists and activists.
Ana Dopico, an associate professor at New York University who studies United States Latino cultures, wrote on Twitter that it was “staggering and shocking” that El Museo would honor “a princess of Europe’s extreme right wing.”
A former El Museo board member, Alex Gonzalez, said he had asked the museum how Princess Gloria, who was reported to have once blamed the nature of Africans for spreading AIDS on that continent, “aligns with the mission and purpose of a Latinx institution” — but had not received an answer.
“Her views on the African AIDS crisis were so lacking in humanity and expressed so publicly on live TV that it should have raised a red flag,” he said on Wednesday in an email message.
After inquiries by The New York Times on Wednesday, the museum issued a statement on Thursday morning. “As a cultural institution founded on the principles of inclusion, civil rights and diversity, El Museo del Barrio is committed to honoring individuals that uphold those values and support the elevation of Latino and Latin American art and culture both in the United States and beyond,” the museum said. “As a result, El Museo del Barrio has decided to part ways with H.S.H. Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis.”
Princess Gloria, reached on Thursday by email, said: “I am disappointed to what degree the society is divided today and that there seems to be absolutely no room for tolerance whatsoever. My conservative religious views have absolutely no impact on my open mind on cultural diversity and inclusion. I have been friends with all sorts of people of different political and religious views all my life.”
The criticism is the latest in a series of controversies to buffet El Museo, a respected institution that has put on well-received shows but which has also experienced serious setbacks. Financial shortfalls have forced staff cuts and reduced operating hours. Several high-profile executive departures have created a sometimes acrimonious climate.
The museum’s fourth leader in seven years, Patrick Charpenel, was named as executive director in 2017. He said that he wanted to explore subjects like immigration, exclusion and diversity, adding that museums sometimes “have to become platforms for political resistance.”
But the decision to honor Princess Gloria was a step in the opposite direction by the museum’s leadership, said Arlene Dávila, a professor and author of a forthcoming book on Latinx art (Latinx is a gender neutral alternative to Latino or Latina). “How little they know about our community,” she said. “It really is a slap in the face.”
Other honorees at the gala, which is to be held in May at the Plaza Hotel, are Raphael Montañez Ortiz, an artist and founder of El Museo; Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, an art collector and philanthropist who created the nonprofit Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation; and Craig Robins, a collector and real estate developer who is a trustee of the Pérez Art Museum in Miami.
For many years, Princess Gloria was a hard partying art-collecting aristocrat who was sometimes known as “Princess TNT.” Nowadays she is a practicing Catholic whose intimates include several figures who vigorously oppose the current Pope.
She has said that Cardinal Raymond Burke, the American leader of the anti-Francis faction, is as close to her as a family priest. She introduced Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a German Cardinal who was fired by Francis from his position as the church’s top doctrinal watchdog, to Mr. Bannon.
Mr. Bannon, who met last year with leaders of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party and addressed France’s far right National Front, aims to build a “gladiator school” for the training of Catholics hostile to Francis.
Princess Gloria was reported to have told a German television host in 2001 that Africa had a high incidence of AIDS because “blacks like to copulate a lot.” She later sought to amend that, saying the reason for that was the continent’s intense heat.
Some people who criticized El Museo said that the decision to honor Princess Gloria was part of a series of moves that have distanced the museum from its roots.
The museum was founded in 1969, during a time of political upheaval, to emphasize Puerto Rican cultural contributions. But it eventually embraced a broader mission to exhibit the work of Latino, Caribbean and Latin American artists from all backgrounds.
“El Museo was founded by New York Puerto Rican activists, educators and artists whose community had been excluded from elite institutions,” Ms. Dopico wrote in an email message. “What values does the Museum honor in honoring Von Thurn und Taxis? How is this honor connected to el Museo’s past or its future?”
Jason Horowitz contributed reporting from London.
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