Art or Criminal Stunt: Berlin Artist Hacks National Gallery Email System and Website

Iman Rezai, one of the two artists responsible for last April’s viral art project “Die Guillotine” has taken responsibility for a rogue exhibition notice sent out to newsletter subscribers of Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie. According to an email (or confession, depending how the case turns out) sent out by his PR agency “The Coup,” Rezai hacked both the institution’s website and email service to, “initiate a virtual art project,” which he calls a cyber war. At this time it is unclear if the artist stole any user data or other confidential information.

It appears that Rezai had been inside of the Neue Nationalgalerie’s website for several months, but only first used the email system at the beginning of last week to send out a fake exhibition invitation. That exhibition was set to discuss the mouthful of a topic, “The Performative Postmodern as an Example of Modern Austerity in the Age of Precarity.” According to Rezai, “Artists should choose the platform that they like to use as canvas.” Thus he hopes to see whether the National Gallery will allow his intervention to pass as art or whether they will shoot back with more draconian ramifications.

Though the National Gallery hadn’t detailed any specifics regarding prosecution, plans are in the works. “We have no appreciation for such behavior within the art industry and plan to take action against those involved,” spokeswoman Anne Schäfer wrote in a statement. Due to Germany’s strict regulations governing email communications, implications could be quite severe for such an unauthorized communication, aside from possible legal action regarding the hacking as such.

Rezai alleges that such rogue use of the internet should be no stranger to the National Gallery as its director Udo Kittelmann has previously used internet platforms in his curatorial practice. Rezai references Kittelmann’s 2005 exhibition when he was still at Frankfurt’s Museum of Modern Art, in which he combined art objects purchased on eBay with works from the museum’s collection. At best, the connection seems questionable.

ARTINFO reached out to Kittelmann, who was not immediately available for comment, regarding his thoughts about that connection and further action the National Gallery will take against Rezai and any co-conspirators who are found through the investigation.  Surely, however, any such cyber-war that Rezai intended will be fought out in the courts rather than over fiber-optic cables. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made cyber crime a focus of her agenda recently, Rezai could very well be used as an example or at the very least a precedent of where the line is drawn between prank and punishable offense, never mind art. At the very least, one would expect a civil suit to protect the institution against any subsequent data-infringement liabilities they may incur due to the security breach.

Alexander Forbes