The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has permeated the NY consciousness with its ubiquitous advertising campaign “BAM – And then it hits you,” an often-unsettling array of scenarios in which city-dwellers at their most Gregory Crewdson-esque are caught in moments of delayed cultural orgasm. The original language (“It can happen at the show. It the subway. It can happen three days later, when you’re crossing the street.”) lent itself a little too easily to parody (see the updated, more explicit versions here), but we think a new variation may be in order after this weekend’s news that Mikhail Prokhorov and the intrepid Prokhorov Fund (led by his awe-inspiring sister, Irina) would be partnering with the institution, to foster some long-overdue Brooklyn-Siberia exchange.
The partnership makes sense when one recalls that Prokhorov is an owner of the Nets, whose Barclay’s Stadium also opened this weekend, to much fan-fare (The Aleppo may be burning, but Google News seemed more concerned with the possibility of Rihanna switching her team alliance from the Knicks to the Nets.) And obviously, Prokhorova has demonstrated a commitment to the Russian provinces, to nurturing academics and culture in places rarely reached by Moscow-based government funding.
As it were, however, the announcement fell on the same weekend when new Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky gave a speech in Ulyanovsk in which he assured the masses that he would be effectively cutting off Russian’s major museums like the Pushkin and the Hermitage from further acquisitions. [What follows is OUR TRANSLATION, FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS BLOG. Read the original Russian here.]:
When faced with the question of national self-identification, “Whose country are we?”, the majority of Russians today will answer “We are the country of Pushkin, Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky…” It doesn’t matter what their level of culture is, either. Culture is an integral part of the identity of our nation. For many years, it has not been the backdrop, but rather been pushed to the background entirely. It’s like on the news – culture is fit in somewhere right next to the weather report, and this should not be the case at all.
This would seem to bode well for the art world, but then, well, BAM, it hits us:
I have argued quite a lot with my colleagues in the museums. The thing is, I do not hold much stock in the idea that the government should be picking up the check for new acquisitions. The Pushkin Museum originated as the private collection of two collectors who had some fantastic taste. The Tretyakov was just the same, as were others. If we are going to try to spend billions of our government budget snapping up art works in auctions at Sotheby’s, we are going to run out of the oil and gas to pay for this. Today we need to see more patrons and sponsors who want the world to see their collections. After all, vanity is still in working order.
At first glance, this seems sensible. The NCCA is struggling right now to get money for their 16 story museum, but the reality of it is, when given money to acquire works for the museum’s collection, they went straight to the biggest price tags, zooming in on Damien Hirst and the Chapman Brothers, rather than really thinking about how the national collection could function.
Where things get tricky, however, is when one looks at the state of patronage in Russia. Grueling customs procedures, unhealthy taxation, and the absence of tax-deductions for contributions all make patronage more than a question of “vanity.” If the Ministry of Culture wants to throw the responsibility of developing the museum into the hands of the patrons without working to ease these obstacles or introducing other incentives, then they will be lucky if culture makes the news report at all.
After all, it’s not just the museums that need development. With galleries collapsing left and right, and the Ministry of Culture itself bemoaning the “fast food” it’s left to deal with, maybe now is the time to look at other models, such as France’s FRAC. Granted, no system is perfect, but the series of smaller institutions spread throughout the provinces steadily build up modest collections by purchasing the works of young artists (often those who have still not caught the eye of patrons and are definitely not fetching millions at Sotheby’s.)
One last possibility that should be considered – in talks around the NCCA Tower, the Moscow Ministry of Culture leaned heavily on representatives of the Garage and the Strelka Institute. The later has made more than a few insinuations that they would be interested in setting up a network of provincial outposts, which could mean that when Medinsky mentions “patrons,” he already has something in mind. (Because there certainly weren’t any to be found prowling the aisles of Art Moscow.)
We’ll have to watch and see what develops (and in the meantime, it just may be that the best place to see Russian culture may be Brooklyn.)