In the wake of the 5th Moscow Biennale, the Russian Ministry of Culture took a stand when it comes to strengthening Russia’s cultural position, even considering the possibility of forming a national ideology (as strongly advocated by filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov, who assured the audience that it was “a manner of national safety.”) When it was time for Ministry of Culture Vladimir Medinsky to speak, he laid out the plans for 2014 to be a “Year of Culture,” with a budget set aside for regions across Russia. In closing, he recalled his recent trip to the Manege: “The Moscow biennale still hadn’t closed. I walked around and thought, why is no one shouting ‘The emperor has no clothes!’? Why should we feel obliged, with contemporary art, to see something like Abstract Cubism, in a pile of a bricks? What’s more, a pile paid for by state funds! Not even to mention how this is absolutely inexplicable to the greater part of the Russian populace.” [Find the original, in Russian, here.] To remind you, the Russian government provided the biennale with 48 million rubles (about $1.5 million), which was about half its total budget (the rest had to be supplemented by funding solicited from sponsors and partners.)
In the wake of these comments, we wondered what this would mean for contemporary art’s place within the Year of Culture? Thankfully, whatever concerns were raised, they were put to rest today when St Petersburg’s government announced that they would set aside 142 million rubles (roughly $4.5 million) for Manifesta 10 (which is set to run from June 28 – October 31, 2014.) While these days, even this sizable sum may not fully cover an exhibition in a venue on the scale of the Hermitage, it still serves as a testament to the import Petersburg is placing on this “bridge between Europe and Russia” (to borrow a phrase from the city’s governor, Georgi Poltavchenko.)
While this figure is nearly three times the biennale’s funding, one must remember that this is not only the 20th anniversary of Manifesta, but also the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage, both excellent reasons to make sure there’s ample funding. More than that, the artist list leaked by curator Kasper Koenig so far (Louise Bourgeois, Maria Lassnig, Marlene Dumas…) has exactly the kind of respectable, world-renowned artists the biennale explicitly lacked.
No promises on whether there will be a “pile of bricks” yet. After all, Jeremy Deller is capable of anything.