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Italy court nixes directors named for 5 museums after reform

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/25/2017 By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 28, 2017 file photo, Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini speaks during a press conference on the upcoming G7 of Culture ministers at the Foreign Press Club in Rome. An Italian administrative court has nixed the selection of five museum directors, siding with critics of a much-vaunted reform which allowed experts based abroad to compete for top posts. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Thursday, May 25, 2017 slammed the ruling by the Lazio region's administrative tribunal as an embarrassment to Italy. His ministry immediately launched an appeal to the Council of State, the highest administrative tribunal. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Tuesday, March 28, 2017 file photo, Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini speaks during a press conference on the upcoming G7 of Culture ministers at the Foreign Press Club in Rome. An Italian administrative court has nixed the selection of five museum directors, siding with critics of a much-vaunted reform which allowed experts based abroad to compete for top posts. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Thursday, May 25, 2017 slammed the ruling by the Lazio region's administrative tribunal as an embarrassment to Italy. His ministry immediately launched an appeal to the Council of State, the highest administrative tribunal. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)

ROME (AP) — Italy's much-hailed modernizing of its bureaucratic museum system, a reform effort that including the hiring of non-Italian candidates from abroad for director's posts, was dealt an embarrassing setback when an administrative overturned some of the appointments following challenges from Italians disgruntled about the new rules.

"I ask myself what image our country is giving to the rest of the world," Culture Minister Dario Francheschini, the museum modernization plan's architect, told reporters Thursday.

Part of the reform plan included a high-profile international search for some of the top names from the world of art and archaeology to run Italy's museums. On Wednesday, the Lazio region's administrative tribunal threw out five of the 20 museum appointments made in 2015.

The Culture Ministry is appealing the ruling.

Among the 15 whose selections were unaffected by the tribunal's scrutiny are some of the first foreigners to be named to head Italy's most prestigious art institutions, including a German at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, a Briton at the Brera art museum in Milan and a Frenchman at the Capodimonte museum in Naples.

The exact reasons five of the appointments were declared invalid weren't immediately clear, but Italian news reports said the use of Skype to interview some of the candidates figured in the ruling.

Among the five appointees who were rejected was Peter Assmann, an Austrian art historian who has led the Ducal Palace in Mantua. Others included the directors of the Estense Gallery in Modena and archaeological museums in Naples, Taranto and Reggio Calabria.

The museum in Reggio Calabria is home to a pair of imposing bronze Greek statues, found in the sea off Italy in 1972. Known as the Riace bronzes, the nearly 2,500-year-old statues are a cherished national symbol of Italy's rich art history.

Two of the five museum directors whose appointments were suspended by the tribunal are Italians who made their reputations abroad, one in Baltimore, Maryland, and the other in France.

The museum reform project was a centerpiece of former Premier Matteo Renzi's government. Franceschini noted that opening up the competition to non-Italian European Union citizens was "so innovative, so courageous," it made headlines worldwide.

Uffizi director Eike Schmidt, one the non-Italians whose appointment resulted from the 2015 change, expressed concern the broader undertaking to enhance Italy's art institutions could unravel.

Schmidt has been working to make the venerable Florence art museum, famed for its Botticelli and other masterpieces, more visitor-friendly.

He used a soccer term to describe the ruling's effect.

"If they close in some way to borders toward Europe, and toward the world, it would really be an 'own goal' for Italian culture and for the economy," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Schmidt as telling reporters in Florence.

Ministry figures released Thursday said that under Assmann's direction, attendance at the Ducal Palace increased by some 76 percent. The museum in southern Taranto, far from the beaten tourist path, saw a similar attendance boost..

Revenues from Italy's museums and archaeological sites increased by 38 percent since 2015, the ministry said. Italy's culture ministry budget is chronically strapped, and the reform plan allowed museums to invest much of their revenues into improvements.

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Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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