On June 19, 2013, Marat Guelman – the political-strategist-cum- art- dealer-cum-museum-director who made a name for himself with scandal-mongering exhibitions like “Watch Out, Religion!” and “RUSSIA-2” (and even more recently, “Icons,” which provoked a little saliva in Krasnodar) – was officially fired from his post as Director of the PERMM Museum of Contemporary Art (a position he more or less created after bringing the art world’s attention to the Russian provincial capital.)
This decision comes in the wake of the White Nights festival, an extravagant (and expensive) month-long program of exhibitions, festivals and even an “Occupy Perm!” (this is becoming quite an unfortunate trend…) One of the exhibitions contained images by a little-known artist Vasily Slonov, who offered a series of works cheerfully titled Welcome! Sochi 2014, delivering a less than cheerful take on the upcoming Olympics (ie, the Olympic rings turned into nooses.) Intended to be an international point of pride for Russia, the Sochi Olympics are turning out to be more of an embarrassment, with charges of disreputable labor practices and a ballooning budget of now more than $50 billion rubles (most of which is rumored to have disappeared into local pockets.) With this heightened sensitivity in mind, Slonov’s work was promptly censored, on the grounds that the artist was using the Sochi symbols without permission. More than this, the Ministry of Culture insisted that Guelman be fired, for allotting public funds from PERMM to support this exhibition.
While it’s a sad tale, we have to indulge in a little cynicism. Guelman is quite aware of the mechanisms of culture and censorship within Russia. Had Slonov’s exhibition remained untouched, only a fraction of the people who have now seen it would even know it exists. Guelman has spent the last week busy giving interviews, laying out his cultural mission for “the battle against Moscow.”
While originally PERMM mentioned an open call to find Guelman’s replacement, Guelman himself leaked over Twitter that local curator Elena Oleinnikova would be taking his place. We shall soon see if all the buzz around the burgeoning scene in Perm remains once Guelman’s gone.