This Sunday, a group of famous authors launched a “test stroll” of “Walks with Writers,” leading over 10,000 on a solidarity stroll through the city. These walks allow cultural leaders to cast light on their cause without picking the types of melee that makes international headlines, but loses the moral imperative (For example, see how the Occupy movement has been perverted from a rational call for financial responsibility into a catch-all calling card for new American anarchy.)
Not everyone in Russia is in line with this intellectual style of protest. Marat Guelman, who recently converted his gallery into a production company, would seem to prefer the good old days when shouting, shoving and spitting were the best method for change.
Guelman had hinted at plans to open an institute of contemporary art in Krasnodar, but he started with Icons, an exhibition deliberately engineered to provoke the Orthodox. It worked. A rumored 150 protesters showed up before the exhibition could even open, protesting art they had not even seen. If a press release is enough to stir up this kind of response, however, perhaps the art doesn’t really matter.
It’s hard to see Guelman’s end game here. He’s announced intentions to spread contemporary art into the provinces, but with deliberate provocation, his emphasis does not seem to be on education or outreach so much as harnessing public outrage. Is he jealous of Pussy Riot? Is this just an elaborate stunt to draw attention to his projects outside of Moscow? (After all, according to Kommersant, the Icons exhibition will still be open through July and that’s only one of Guelman’s planned projects in the area.) It wouldn’t be a stretch, especially when the Russian Orthodox Church’s official spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin blogged this statement earlier this week, as part of a post called “What To Do With Contemporary Art”:
They showed me the works for the exhibition Icons. Some of the artists are Orthodox believers and certainly not provocateurs. Some are athiests, but even in most of that work, I didn’t see anything particularly anti-Orthodox. There were a few works which seemed controversial to me, but I think it would have been good for the artists to explain what they had in mind when they made the piece. I cannot see anything fundamentally wrong in the exhibition concept.
So if the Orthodox Church itself does not seem too concerned, who would these people be? And will these types of attention-whore highjinks reflect poorly on the work being done in Moscow?