Thursday, July 15, 2010

Art as Pawn in Russian Power Game

I'm not informed enough on contemporary Russian society to know what to make of the trial of two Russian curators found guilty of inciting hatred for showing mildly provocative artworks (like the one at right by Alexander Kosolapov).

On one hand, it felt as if the ultra-nationalists who filed the complaint that led to the trial must be kidding...this image is a serious threat to the Russian Orthodox Church, "the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and second only to the Roman Catholic Church among Christian churches, numbering over 135 million members world wide"?

On the other hand, the impact of this on the fledgling contemporary art scene in Russia, which has been making impressive strides over that past 10 years, seemed unfortunate. As the New York Times noted when the judge handed down only a fine for curators Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev (rather than the anticipated jail sentence), "Andrei Yerofeyev and some of his supporters said they believed that the Kremlin had intervened to prevent a prison sentence that could tarnish Russia’s image abroad."

Too late for that, I'd say. The trial was ridiculous, and what's worse, as Samodurov noted, “Now any exhibition on religion showing works that are not straightforwardly religious can be deemed criminal."

With all the oligarchs delving into the international contemporary art scene these days, I wouldn't be surprised that the Kremlin is image conscious on this front, but the Kremlin is also the body that can modernize Russia's free speech laws, so their assumed intervention is obviously the least they could do. Of course, they'll argue that the difficult job of cooling down religious tension in Russia requires some flexibility in the free speech department, but by all accounts this exhibition was hardly gonna lead to blood in the streets on its own...it would require some serious manipulation to help it do that.

Which brings me back to what I noted up top, that I'm not informed enough to really know how to interpret the trial. So I turned to Matthew Bown over at IZO, a great source of all things Russian art related in English. Here is his take:
I think this trial was only nominally about art and chiefly about power. The artists themselves were not charged. The owners of private galleries that showed some of these works were not charged. The reason being that they are not figures in the post-Soviet apparat, just private entrepreneurs. Samodurov, as head of the Sakharov Centre, and Erofeev, as head of the New Art department at the Tretyaklov Gallery, were figures in the apparat. The aim of the lengthy prosecution, which has been accomplished, was to expel these bearers of an alternative ideology from the corridors of power.
That would seem to explain it quite well.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most Russians minds are still in pre- postmodern art. I guess the Western values of freedom speech combined with artistic nihilism don’t go well there. Are you surprise? The West is loosing its identity fast with all the noise of political correctness, emigration from the third world, individual rights are more important than than the safety of whole society etc. The Western culture is sinking like Titanic. There is no more glue which would hold us together any more. Freedom of speech? It is joke. WikiLeak…. anybody. Big societies need a core, a force, a guide which allow common people , intellectuals, artists, politicians relate to each other and Christian Eastern Orthodoxy is exactly that in Russian culture. Why Russian should follow sickening Western example? I think, they worry about this nihilistic cancer where everything is relative, it has no value and as a result people are drowning in buzzing chaos, including artists. National identity is important in that part of the world. If the western press doesn’t like that they can show some courage, too, and depict Mahomet on their “freedom loving” front pages. One Danish attempt is not enough.
MMM

7/15/2010 10:05:00 PM  
Anonymous matt said...

Can anyone say Soviet Union. Just like the "old" days.

7/16/2010 06:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

...always amazes me how much art is recognized as having such influence on society (conquerors steal the monuments, churches go up over the temples, Taliban blow up Buddhist statues, totem poles go overseas ...

and yet,
yet how little we seem to express responsibility in our art endeavors. (Not to say the judge was correct in this case) but more so, that with such examples of arts import, why we seem so cavalier in arts expression. Like we don't realize how important art is in creating it, (it's a luxury, it's just beauty, it's just imagination, it's just decoration ...)
yet the proof that art is so much more then that, is in these court cases, when when pull down statues of Hussein, or banish symbols of despised others.

Strange the juxtaposition of these two diverging points of view -

7/16/2010 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

Some of these issues have been raised by the Biennale of Carrara. Titled POSTMONUMENT, the catalogue has an interesting interview with Mikail Gorbachev who defines "silly" the idea of taking down monuments to old dictators. There's an article on the piece on the Sunday Times.

7/16/2010 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Tee Are said...

look horrible, i wonder why Russian keep their mind like that?

7/17/2010 01:12:00 AM  
Anonymous East European said...

Matthew Brown is a rich gentlemen from London who writes in his blog of prostitutes lining up for rich westeners like him in Moscow airport. He does business with Russian art but I do not think he really understands Russia. To get the real picture of Russia, you might try other sources as well. While Kosolapov's piece certainly has an important idea and certainly does not incite hatred, some other works in the genre certainly are not "mildly provocative" (performances of crushing Russian Orthodox icons with axes etc). And what is the difference between mild and non-mild when matters of religion are concerned? .. There are artist guys who'd like to insult people, for insult's sake.. Now in Russia you may get beaten if you go insult people. Artist guys do not get it. (I've seen it).

7/17/2010 11:26:00 AM  

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