Pavilion Politics, Power-Players and a lot of Prizes

Yuri Albert, In My Work I've Hit a Crisis..., 1983

Yuri Albert, In My Work I’ve Hit a Crisis…, 1983

We promised this post would be on prizes, and there were certainly plenty given out this week: the Art Newspaper Russia‘s new award, the St Petersburg-based Kurokhin Prize, and of course, the National Center for Contemporary Art’s Innovation Prize, which was awarded last night, and the Moscow Museum of Multimedia Art’s Golden Camera, which will be announced later today.

First, however, we had a few updates around Grigory Revzin’s dismissal from his post as Commissioner of the Russian Pavilion for the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Two days ago, we wrote that the reasons were officially unknown, though we had an inkling it had something to do with Revzin’s work as a journalist, providing social commentary as a columnist for GQ (which, even in Russia, is still more Q+A than T+A.)  In a conversation with Interview Russia, Revzin – who was quickly replaced with Semyon Mikhailovsky, rector of St Petersburg’s Repin Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and one of the signees on the petition of cultural workers in support of Putin’s actions in the Krimea – states quite frankly that: “It’s not about the exhibition concept, it’s about personal loyalty. Mikhailovsky signed his name to a petition, and I signed mine to a column.” While Revzin insists he had no intent to crusade against Russia and only wanted to showcase the best of what the country can offer, architecture-wise, he riles against the idea that the Minister of Culture should serve as a Minister of Ideology, an idea hauntingly not far from realization (right now there’s a bill up for debate that would cancel government support – both funding and legal protection – for contemporary art that counters “Russian” values.)

The entire interview is available (in Russian) here.

Now on to the Prize Round-Up. (Get a fresh cup of coffee – this will be a long one.)

The Art Newspaper Russia astounds and confounds with its II Annual Award Ceremony

A scene from The Art Newspaper Award's "tribute" to Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova

A scene from The Art Newspaper Award’s “tribute” to Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova

Let’s start with the The Art Newspaper Russia awards, which were announced April 4. A newcomer in every sense, this was only the second year the prizes were given, as the franchise still struggles to fill the void left by ArtChronika, Black Square, and other Russian art magazines. The categories are pretty straight-forward, with the addition of one for Best Restoration, which we can’t help but applaud (especially when masterpieces like the Melnikov House and Narkomfin have met such obstacles securing funding.) This year the award went to the Alvar Aalto library in Vyborg. The state Tretyakov’s survey of Natalia Goncharova was named Exhibition of the Year; Olga Sviblova’s Museum of Multimedia Art Moscow was named Museum of the Year; and the Book of the Year went to Stella Art Foundation’s director of development, Nikolai Molok, for his history of Russian pavilions for the Venice Biennale (Topical. Very topical.)

The real Precious Moment of the evening, however, was the award for Personal Contribution, which went to Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova. As, understandably, the awardees were a no-show, the organizers of the event arranged a play instead, in which the Dasha character tries to distract the Roman figure from his dealings with Chelsea, then gives up and reads an Art Newspaper Russia. Roman, realizing the folly of his ways, then enlists 007 to round up all the great art works of the world in an effort to win Dasha back. All to remixed Amy Winehouse. You can watch it here on TV Dozhd. (Go to Part III. It starts around the 10 minute mark.)

Kuryokhin Prize offers a glimpse at the Russian Art World beyond Moscow

Ivan Sotnikov, Battle with Squirrel

From “Battle with Squirrel,” an exhibition of Ivan Sotnikov at Navicula Artis

Always the underdog in these things, the Kuryokhin Prize – named in honor of composer Sergey Kuryokhin - has kicked up its game this year, moving the ceremony into the Hermitage (soon to be the site of Manifesta.) The nominees tend to reflect the nuances in Petersburg’s scene, particularly the bend towards the theatrical, as evidenced by the main winner, Peter Aidu, a sound installation artist. Other awards went to Timya Radya (who hails from Ekaterinburg) and Group PROVMYZA (from Nizhny Novgorod), but the prize that got us the most excited was the award to Gleb Ershov of Navicula Artis, for his curatorial project, “Battle with Squirrel.” Navicula Artis is a small gallery within the Pushkinskaya-10 complex, but it’s served as the epicenter of the more esoteric elements in the city’s art scene for years. We’re very happy to see them getting some attention!

Yuri Albert and Katya Degot take the top prize at Innovation

A still from Sasha Pirogova's film BIBLIMEN (2013.)

A still from Sasha Pirogova’s film BIBLIMEN (2013.)

Last’s night’s ceremony saw XL Gallery’s Elena Selina clinch Best Curatorial Project for the two-part “Reconstruction” show, presented with the Garage and the Ekaterina Foundation. The Krasnodar-based ZIP Group won for Best Regional Project, Kaliningrad curator Dmitry Bulatov took home the prize in Theory, Criticism and Art History, and the emerging artist award went to Sasha Pirogova, for her video BIBLIMEN (2013.)  The top honor, however, went to Yuri Albert and Katya Degot, who won Best Work of Art for their collaboration “And What Did the Artist Intend to Say with This?,” a retrospective of Albert’s playfully frustrating repertoire. (This makes it quite a big year for Degot.)

The evening also included a nod to ArtChronika Foundation – now BREUS Foundation, but we’ll get to that – founder Shalva Breus, for his contributions to art. Also honored was Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe, a tribute which might seem quite daring, for Russia (though admittedly, the move pales when compared to, say, the exhibition on homosexuality in  Africa, planned for Dak’Art.) We appreciated Artguide’s Masha Kravtsova‘s observation on Facebook about how while Putin was name-checked repeatedly during the ceremony, no one actually said his name, instead resorting to complicated phrasing to indicate the one in power. Her readers were quick to draw the Voldemort parallel, so we didn’t have to.

Kandinsky Prize sees a change of Name, but not of Heart

Moscow's Udarnik Theatre, soon to be the site of the BREUS Foundation's museum

Moscow’s Udarnik Theatre, soon to be the site of the BREUS Foundation’s museum

Of course, all of the prizes mentioned above are still seen as secondary, behind the ArtChronika Foundation’s Kandinsky Prize, which is typically awarded in December. The closure of ArtChronika Magazine - seemingly the foundation’s namesake – had some scratching their heads as to how the prize might continue, but the foundation’s head, collector Shalva Breus, seemed undeterred in his mission, which includes converting the Udarnik Theatre into a private museum.

Today, Artguide announced that Breus has rebranded his foundation, which from this day forth shall be known as the BREUS Foundation. Additionally, Breus has kicked off the architectural competition to design his museum, which is now slated to open in 2016. Current architects in the running include the very international assortment of Arata Isozaki & Associates (Japan), Stephan Braunfels Architekten (Germany),  Designed by Erick van Egeraat (Netherlands), Emre Arolat Architects (Turkey), John McAslan + Partners (Great Britain), and Robbrecht en Daem architecten (Belgium). While we suppose the cosmopolitanism should be encouraging, and it will be wonderful to see some new life breathed into the Russian Constructivist building (which, in its Post-Soviet tenure has served as a car dealership, a really cheesy casino, and a middling sushi spot offering Biznez Launch with a view), we can’t help but wonder about Russian architects (particularly after MEL - located a hop, skip and a jump from Udarnik in our former home, the Red October Chocolate Factory – had such a strong showing in the NCCA tender.)

The finalists should be announced in June.


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Russian Minister of Culture fires commissioner Grigory Revzin just weeks before the Venice Architecture Biennale

The Skolkovo-themed Russian Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale

The Skolkovo-themed Russian Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale

In Russia this week brings a near-comical number of prizes – the St Petersburg-based Kurokhin Prize, the National Center for Contemporary Art’s Innovation Prize, the newly-formed Art Newspaper Russia Prize, the Moscow Museum of Multimedia Art’s Golden Camera…  Basically, just a lot of prizes, and we’ll get to them in due time (Read: After Innovation’s ceremony on April 9.)

We couldn’t wait on this piece of news, however. Just days after the Stella Art Foundation – commissioner for the Russian Pavilion in Venice – announced that Margarita Tupitsyn would curate next year’s presentation of Irina Nakhova, more news from Venice, this time more worrying.

According to a post made a few hours ago on his Facebook account, curator and architectural critic Grigory Revzin has been dismissed from his post as commissioner for the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which opens on June 7, 2014, just over two months away. No explanation was provided, other than that this was the personal decision of Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky.

Revzin was named to the post in 2010. For the 2012 edition, he turned the spotlight on the Skolkovo, a massive virtual city/tech-hub on the outskirts of Moscow. For the project, curators Sergei Tchoban and Sergey Kuznetsov covered the space floor to ceiling with QR codes, then handed visitors tablets at the door so they could access all the information (making it quite possibly the first time in history anyone has ever scanned one of those things.) Here’s a video of the experience:

Needless to say, the pavilion was inordinately popular, and was awarded second prize for best pavilion by the biennale, and Revzin was named one of GQ‘s People of the Year (not so common a commendation for your everyday art historian…)

For his second outing, Revzin was instructed to work with schools. This basically narrowed his choices to the state school, MArkhI, or the Rem Koolhaas-affiliated alternative, Strelka Institute for media, architecture and design.  As Koolhaas is the curator for the biennale proper, Revzin said it was a no-brainer, and went with Strelka.

We don’t doubt that Strelka has a competent team who can push on despite this setback. We do, however, worry that such a high-profile firing would take place without any explanation offered to the public, let alone to Revzin himself. (In his Facebook post, he insinuates that it may be connected to his position on Krimea.)

Anyway, more on prizes later this week, but we’re not sure if anyone is really feeling like a “winner” this morning.

GQ Grigory Revzin

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Love Stories: Margarita Tupitsyn curates the Russian Pavilion, while much ado in Baku and London

In her monthly column for Artspace, Baibakov Art Project’s Maria Baibakova writes under the banner “Women of the Art World Unite!”, recounting her encounters with strong women in challenging art scenes, whether that be Moscow, Baku, Dubai or even Paris.  Allow us to add to her list with these new updates?

Margarita Tupitsyn to curate the Russian Pavilion at Venice

Margarita Tupitsyn

Margarita Tupitsyn

When the Stella Art Foundation – headed up by Stella Kesaeva – took over the reins to Russia’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale, one might expect a drier, conceptual program, more in keeping with the foundation’s collection. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you  Andrey Monastyrsky (2011) and Vadim Zakharov (2013), whose installation “Danae” relied on segregating by gender, with women having gold coins “rained” upon them from the men above. While we have respect for both of these artists (if not for all of their projects…) it was a breath of fresh air to hear that the 2015 pavilion would be a solo show of Irina Nakhova. The question remained, after Boris Groys (2011) and Udo Kittelmann (2013), who would be tapped to curate?

That question was answered yesterday, when Artguide broke the news that Stella Art Foundation had selected Margarita Tupitsyn. Along with her husband Victor, Tupitsyn was one of the first influential writers publishing on Moscow Conceptualism, but independently, she has carried out enormous scholarly projects on Soviet photography, Sots Art, Socialist Realism and Malevich.

Club of Friends comes to London

Georgiy Guryanov, Evgeniy Kozlov, Timur Novikov, Igor Verichev in Evgeniy Kozlov flat, Galaxy Gallery, 1987. Photo taken by Paquita Escofet Miro.

Georgiy Guryanov, Evgeniy Kozlov, Timur Novikov, Igor Verichev in Evgeniy Kozlov flat, Galaxy Gallery, 1987. Photo taken by Paquita Escofet Miro.

On the subject of unofficial histories, we were thrilled to see Calvert 22′s latest show, “Club of Friends,” which excerpts for the Moscow Museum of Modern Art‘s exhibition of the New Artists, a ribald movement from Perestroika-era Petersburg, that included such greats as Timur Novikov, Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe (both of whom will be in the upcoming Manifesta) and Georgy Guryanov.

Curated by Katya Andreeva, the show includes paintings, tapestries, and an extensive selection of video, including Pirate TV, which Monroe hosted in drag, often alongside Kathrin Becker. Below is a clip from the series, “Deaths of Celebrities”, which rewrites the story of Marilyn Monroe and JFK:

Meanwhile, Calvert 22 made their own video excerpt, which you can see here:

Club of Friends. Timur Novikov’s New Artists and the New Academy from Calvert 22 Gallery on Vimeo.

The exhibition is on display through May 25. Find more info here.

Love Me, Love Me Not at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku

Detail from Aida Mahmudova, Recycled, 2012-2013. Image courtesy of the artist and YAY Gallery, Baku

Detail from Aida Mahmudova, Recycled, 2012-2013. Image courtesy of the artist and YAY Gallery, Baku

For us, one of the most valuable side projects at the 2013 Venice Biennale was “Love Me, Love Me Not,” a selection of contemporary art “from Azerbaijan and its Neighbors”, curated by Dina Nasser-Khadivi. We’ve been excited about this show for some time, as it includes, among others, Slavs and Tatars, Taus Makhacheva, and Aida Mahmudova, artist and founder of the YARAT Contemporary Art Space.

This second leg of the show will be opened yesterday at the Heydar Alijev Center in Baku – one of Zaha Hadid‘s most recent projects. It is slated to be on view through May 25, 2014, giving another reason to visit this spectacular (and spectacularly strange) city. You can find more about the exhibition here or on its official website

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, designed by Zaha Hadid

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, designed by Zaha Hadid

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From Matisse to Alys in Manifesta 10, while Moscow contemplates an Absolute Wine Factory

Francis Alys, Draft for Lada Project, 2014

Francis Alys, Draft for Lada Project, 2014

Manifesta 10 reveals its artist roster, new website

While curator Kasper Koenig has given us plenty to speculate on earlier, yesterday, Manifesta 10 revealed the list of artists whose work will be featured in the Hermitage this summer via a press conference and a  spiffy new website.

As befitting the encyclopedic museum, the list stretches from Henri Matisse to Joseph Beuys to Cindy Sherman to Slavs and Tatars. In addition, Public Programs’ curator Joanna Warsza has invited contributions from artists including Pawel AlthamerRagnar Kjartansson, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and curators like Ekaterina Degot and Kathrin Becker.

Koenig concluded the conference with a short statement:

In response to the comments I have received regarding the current geopolitical circumstances, I would like to stress that obviously I am very concerned with the escalating crisis, and because of it I do believe it is and should be our goal to continue to make MANIFESTA 10 happen. It is itself a complex entity, to prompt its artists and its viewers to assume their own strong political positions, to pose questions and raise voices. To neglect and quit, would be a sign of escalation. There is vulnerability of this situation, but also a challenge and we shall have a courage to go on, a decision backed up by many Russian colleagues. It is upon us not to be influenced by prejudices against minorities or nationalist propaganda but to reject it. It is more important than ever to continue our work with courage and conviction for the local and international publics.

Guess it’s time we all renewed our visas?

Image from Proun Gallery's exhibition, "SPORTKULT", on view at Winzavod.

Image from Proun Gallery’s exhibition, “SPORTKULT”, on view at Winzavod.

Absolute Wine Factory? Rumors of a change of ownership at Winzavod

On March 14, Artguide broke the news that Winzavod was changing hands, from Roman and Sonya Trotsenko - the founding directors – to Alexander Svetakov, the 46-year old head of Absolute Investment Group (not to be confused with the vodka). In 2013, Svetakov was valued at $2.6 billion, making him the #39 wealthiest Russian, at least, according to The story was quickly picked up in the news, with outlets like Buro 24/7  reminding us that Absolute had recently invested in a brewery that it was planning to redevelop as well. (Meanwhile, Trotsenko – #117 at just shy of a billion – has vowed to complete construction on the Federation Tower, the erstwhile venue for the 2nd Moscow Biennale back in 2007.) explained how this was just one step in plans to create a massive, $10 billion art-kvartal, stretching from Winzavod to Artplay.

On March 16, however, retracted this report after Winzavod issued a statement refuting this change of the guard and assuring everyone that the center would continue to function “as usual.”

Established in 2007, Winzavod has been struggling in recent years, as many of its former staples – XL Gallery, Guelman, Aidan – shuttered or restructured as non-profits.

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Principles’ Day Out: Manifesta’s Destiny, Posthumous Petition-signers and Boycotters branded as Hypocrites

Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male, 2012, performance, 30 mins. Courtesy the artist.

Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male, 2012, performance, 30 mins. Courtesy the artist.

Sydney’s Saga Continues: Boycott Artists branded as Hypocrites

These past two weeks we have reported on how the artists boycott of the Sydney Biennale over its ties to Transfield (a holding company that had recently expanded to include the detention center where a recent asylum-seeker was found dead) had met with a relative success, when the chairman of both Transfield and the Biennale – Luca Belgiorno-Nettis – resigned. While the decision was celebrated by some, others – notably among the Australian arts community – pointed out how this sets a precedent that might scare off future funders (After all, as we pointed out last week, Transfield wasn’t just a corporate sponsor, stepping in. Transfield money gave this biennale its start, and has been supporting it all along.)  The Biennale artists were branded as hypocrites by several media outlets – among them, the Minister of Communications himself, Malcolm Turnbull, who checked the “vicious ingratitude” of the artists- for not distinguishing between Australia, who sets the policies, and Transfield, who enforces them. “The artists that vetoed this need to understand that most arts funding in the country comes from the government, and the government are the ones behind Manus Island,” Mark Carnegie writes (and while we’d love to read more of him, it’s behind the Financial Review paywall.)  Meanwhile, from the lost cause corner, art history professor Roger Benjamin pleads that “We should value the Biennale protest, not threaten arts funding.”

Today on Facebook, boycotting artist Ahmet Öğüt released a short statement recognizing that the boycott process has not been easy on the Biennale team. He then confirms that he will in fact participate, and what’s more, that he will donate his artist’s fees to the Biennale.

The biennale is set to open March 21. When we checked the website, there was no mention of any drama, other than that they still need volunteers for Eglė Budvytytė’s Choreography for the Running Male performance. 

Still from Chto Delat, “A Border Musical” 2013.

Still from Chto Delat, “A Border Musical” 2013.

Meanwhile, Manifesta…

As we also mentioned last week, the day after Transfield announced that it would pull its support, Manifesta’s Victor Misiano went on Russian TV and admitted that a similar boycott strategy could work for Manifesta, which is facing a fresh round of protest now demanding that the artists and curator refuse to participate so long as Russia does not pull out of the Crimea. 

On March 11, Manifesta responded with a statement of their own, confirming that the exhibition will go on as planned. We’ve culled a few excerpts from curator Kasper Koenig‘s personal response, which you can find in its entirety here:

I feel very strongly about the necessity of the biennial – for St. Petersburg and for the public. The exhibition is part of a larger process involving art, education, public discussions, civil developments, and more. The situation has escalated since our work began but I do not think that this implies support (by the State Hermitage Museum and its Director Dr. Piotrovsky, by the Manifesta Foundation and its Director Hedwig Fijen, or by me) for Russia’s present political and military actions. To stop our work for any reason other than its literal and practical impossibility is not an answer to the current situation…

The main concern here is to grapple with all the possibilities that the art offers and understand the breadth of perspectives that it presents and opens up. I do not aspire to simply present commentary and, more importantly, I hope to present far more than just commentary on the present political circumstances…

All artists were invited to participate with the following statement: “Of course the political circumstances are currently delicate and unpleasant, and we have to make sure not to censor ourselves. It is important to me that my contract guarantees artistic freedom, however within Russian law. Still, we hope to exhibit substantial artworks that do not resort to cheap provocations. The environment and the possibilities for this exhibition are very rich and it would be a mistake to reduce our possibilities down to the level of just making a particular political statement.”

Not everyone is happy with this response, however. ArtLeaks announced yesterday that the Chto Delat collective would be pulling out of Manifesta in support of the anti-war movement. As we’ve cited before, Chto Delat has earlier advocated against boycotts, urging the community to consider this as exactly the type of platform to air their grievances. Now it would seem their position has been reversed :

Kaspar König’s most recent statement denigrates any attempts to address the present situation in Russia by artistic means, demoting them to “self-righteous representation” and “cheap provocation” and thus effectively preemptively censoring them.We see now from this official reaction that neither curator nor institution are capable of rising to the challenge of a dramatically evolving political situation, and we cannot be held hostage by its corporate policies, however reasonable they would sound under different circumstance….

As we have said before, we are generally against boycotts and especially as far as international cultural projects in Russia are concerned. A cultural blockade will only strengthen the position of reactionary forces at a time when the marginalized anti-war movement in Russia so desperately needs solidarity. But our aim at least should be to turn every cultural project into a manifestation of dissent against the Russian government’s policy of violence, repressions, and lies. Even if you are staging Shakespeare or exhibiting Matisse, the task of culture today is to find the artistic language to bring home that simple message.

Sadly, Manifesta cannot rise to this challenge. Had the situation remained as it was, with a soft authoritarianism continuing to stagnate in Russia, the project might have been a positive factor for the further development of a fledgling public sphere. But as conditions worsen and reactionary forces grow stronger by the day, Manifesta has shown that it can respond with little more than bureaucratic injunctions to respect law and order in a situation where any and all law has gone to the wind. For that reason, any participation in the Manifesta 10 exhibition loses its initial meaning.

You can find Chto Delat’s full statement here at ArtLeaks.

Manifesta is slated to have a full press conference on March 25, during which it will reveal further details, including the 43 artists who have signed on to participate.


Vladimir Tsigal, Shepherd's House, from the series "Dagestan," 1956-1960

Vladimir Tsigal, Shepherd’s House, from the series “Dagestan,” 1956-1960

Posthumous Pro-Putin Petitioning 

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Culture produced a long and star-studded list of artists, actors and performers who approve of Putin’s presence in the Crimea. Over 500 strong, the roster includes Zurab Tsereteli, dapper don of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art syndicate; Irina Antonova, former director and current president of the Pushkin MuseumFedor Bondarchuk, a crossover actor/film director; and, up until recently, artist Victor Tsigal, a painter and popular illustrator who was recruited to help design the Soviet ruble. “Up until recently,” because yesterday, a day or two after the list was published, Marat Guelman took to his Twitter to point out that #468 passed away in 2005. Those who were quick to defend the list, saying that they must have meet Victor’s brother, Vladimir, also an artist, had to face the unfortunate fact that the lesser known V.E. Tsigal had died on June 4, 2013.

Shortly after Guelman aired his finding, entry #468 was removed from the list. We should still presume this to mean that the artist would support Putin, if he could…
Even as we write this, we’re getting updates about the March for Peace in Moscow. Let’s hope with the next round-up, we have some cheerier news?


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Curator Ekaterina Degot to Cologne’s Akademie der Kunste der Welt

Curator Kasper Koenig with Katya Degot in Bergen, 2013. Photo Kate Sutton, courtesy of

Curator Kasper Koenig with Katya Degot in Bergen, 2013. Photo Kate Sutton, courtesy of

We’re interrupting our new digest format to deliver what we feel is some pretty significant news for Moscow, which we discovered through Artguide: curator Ekaterina Degot (known by most of the Russian art world at “Katya”) has taken on a two-year post as Art Director at the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne. In doing so, she joins academy members Walid Raad, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Soyoung Kim and Rosemarie Trockel.

Degot, as you might recall, was one of the two forces behind this year’s Bergen Triennial, “Monday Begins on Saturday,” which is currently up for the state-funded Innovation prize for Curatorial Project (Her partner-in-crime, David Riff, is also headed to Cologne.) Another of her more recent projects in the Motherland was “Auditorium Moscow,” a forum concurrently with the 4th Moscow Biennale, that brought together artists and thinkers like Yael Bartana, Tania Bruguera, Hito Steyerl and Artur Żmijewski. Degot has also been the face of the Rodchenko School, which provides one of the only official media art programs in the country.  You can find an extended biography here, on the Akademie der Künste der Welt‘s site.

In all the talk of biennales and boycotts, Degot was one of the few curators who stood out as a critical voice, capable of formulating a cohesive critique without resorting to cheap provocations or political platitudes. While we congratulate Katya and look forward to her future projects in Cologne, we do hope that she will continue her work in Russia (now, more than ever…)

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Let’s Change It All: Sydney Biennale’s parting with Transfield gives hope to Manifesta protests

Hubert Czerepok, Let’s Change It All, 2011 (video still), HD video documentation of performance, 120 mins. Courtesy the artist and ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin. Photograph: Robert Mleczko. Commissioned by the Polish National Centre for Culture, Warsaw

Hubert Czerepok, Let’s Change It All, 2011 (video still), HD video documentation of performance, 120 mins. Courtesy the artist and ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin. Photograph: Robert Mleczko. Commissioned by the Polish National Centre for Culture, Warsaw

Let’s Change It All: The Biennale and Transfield Part Ways

This Wednesday, four artists – Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray  - joined their colleagues Libia CastroÓlafur ÓlafssonCharlie SofoGabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt to announce their withdrawal from the Biennale. Today, in one of those rare turns, the artistic statement yielded immediate consequences. There wasn’t the announcement of a series of “conversations” about the situation, there wasn’t the resolution to “think critically about the future” of the biennale. The Biennale cut its ties with Transfield. What’s more, the chairman of both the Biennale and Transfield, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis - whose father Franco created both institutions – ended his 14 year streak at the helm with a letter of resignation.

What’s interesting in this is not just that the protest worked. It also brought to light a few particularly intriguing details withheld earlier, namely that Transfield Holdings - much  bigger than Transfield Services, the company it uses to manage its detention center – isn’t just a corporate sponsor; the Belgiorno-Nettis family founded the biennale. Transfield is one of the major sponsors of a number of art institutions, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the Australian Chamber Orchestra,  Sculpture by the Sea and Accessible Arts, a program aimed at fostering creative expression within the  community of those with disabilities. The Transfield Foundation provides grants to “groundbreaking arts organizations,” with an explicit statement of support for the arts in all forms. That said, the billion dollar contract for detention centers built to enforce Australia’s laws were enough to give up a biennale over.

We’re still waiting to hear what’s next for the Sydney Biennale, which is due to open on March 21, when, amongst other activities, Hubert Czerepok is supposed to present a performance titled Let’s Change It All.

Image from the Change.Org Protest

Image from the Change.Org Protest

Et tu, Manifesta?

It didn’t take long for the same people posting news about Transfield to switch gears to Manifesta. As the drama over the Crimea continues to unfold (somehow only getting more complicated, not less…), so has the international art community’s resistance to Manifesta 10, which has already been the subject of many of protest due to St Petersburg’s laws against homosexual propaganda. Curator Kasper Koenig had seemed to weather the latter, dropping hints of a smart show that focused on body politics by narrowing in on the body, speaking politically through the most indirect means (and artists like Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas and Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe). The biennale was due to announce a full artist roster later this month, but now it finds itself besieged by a new set of protests, resolving to boycott the event until Russia ends its illegal occupation of the Crimea.

You can find the Change.Org protest here.

Manifesta’s Victor Misiano appeared on Canal Dozhd to answer questions as to whether or not a letter like this could make a difference. He notes that the letter is not aimed at the Manifesta Foundation, but rather addressed to the curator and the participating artists, asking them to each make the decision for themselves whether they want to participate under the current political atmosphere.  As we have learned from the Sydney situation, this may be the most effective strategy. Whether it will work for this particular case – if one or two artists withdraw, Manifesta still has the entire Hermitage at its disposal – remains to be seen.

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