State of the Art

Exactly three years after Pussy Riot’s famous Punk Prayer performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Russian Orthodox Church has once again found itself offended by blasphemous art. This time around, the “culprit” is 30 year-old award-winning opera director Timofei Kulyabin, whose modern take on Wagner’s Tannhäuser has apparently offended the religious feelings of believers in Novosibirsk to the extent that he was accused of “publicly desecrating the object of religious worship in Christianity”. The case was brought to the prosecutor’s office by Orthodox cleric Tikhon, who claims he has received numerous complaints about the production from viewers – he himself had never seen the opera. Tannhäuser, which premiered at the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre in December, plants Wagner’s story in contemporary times and re-imagines Tannhäuser as a film director modeled in part on Lars Von Trier. According to some accounts, the “insult” to believers came in the form of a poster depicting Jesus Christ crucified between a woman’s legs that was featured in one of the scenes. Last week, in a surprisingly sane turn of events, Kulyabin, who was facing an administrative fine, was found not guilty of the charges pressed against him. According to the court, the production “does not contain the image of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, because the image of Christ in the Gospels is true, while the image of Christ in the opera is fictional”. Thank God, they got the whole “art” idea.

Kulyabin's Tannhäuser

Kulyabin’s Tannhäuser at the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre

Meanwhile, Pussy Riot are bringing their art to cable television: Nadya “Tolokno” Tolokonnikova (who was seen amongst the Boris Nemtsov mourner protesters in Moscow last Sunday), Masha Alyokhina and Petr Verzilov made their acting debut in the third season of Netflix’s House of Cards. In episode 3, Nadya, Masha and Petr, playing themselves, attend a state dinner hosted by President Frank Underwood at the White House in honor of Russia’s fictional (or not really?) president Victor Petrov. Petrov attempts to toast the band members, citing their common love for the homeland. Pussy Riot reply with their own toast – to a president who is “so open to criticism that all of his critics are in jail”, pour out their champagne, and flee the soiree, leaving us wondering where they’re headed, in the general sense.

Pussy Riot's House of Cards moment

Pussy Riot’s House of Cards moment

Moscow’s non – fictional political landscape has experienced a dramatic change this week, when Sergey Kapkov, the city’s Minister of Culture, stepped down from his post last Tuesday. Kapkov is widely recognized for modernizing Moscow’s cultural and urban politics: he, amongst other things, transformed Moscow’s Gorky Park into a hipster wonderland, added bike lanes to the streets, reformed Moscow theatres, libraries and museums by increasing accessibility, unifying schedules and hiring younger staff. Kapkov was also known as an approachable minister with a “good guy” demeanor – a rare trait that made him somewhat of an outsider in Russian politics and a favorite of the liberally minded Muscovites. Of course, he had his critics amongst the latter as well: the changes he made to what he referred to as the city’s “atmosphere” were seen by many as extraneous distractions from harshening political realities: people needed space for protest and political engagement, not a park with food trucks and yoga. Kapkov will be replaced by former head of Moscow’s Department of Cultural Heritage Alexander Kibovsky, whose previous post involved overseeing the integrity of historical architecture in the city, a cause he was semi – successful at, considering that numerous buildings were nonetheless blatantly destroyed during his tenure. Kibovskiy, a historian who authored a two volume book on the Uniform of the Russian Air Force, seems more in line with current cultural politics in Russia than the former “hipster-minister” Kapkov. How exactly he will deal with Kapkov’s legacy has become slightly clearer today, when Kibovskiy stated at a Duma meeting that he will be investigating the legitimacy of  contracts worth 4.3 billion Rubles which his department had signed in the past year, under Kapkov’s reign.

In non – political news, London’s Tate has announced the appointment of two new curators responsible for the museum’s growing collection of contemporary Russian art. Natalia Sidlina, adjunct research curator for Russian art, and Julia Tatiana Bailey, assistant curator of collections in international art, will work in conjunction with Tate Modern’s Russian and Eastern European Acquisitions Committee (REEAC) on further expanding the presence of Russian art in the museum’s walls; the committee, where our very own Maria Baibakova is a member, will have its next meeting is April 24. The new curatorial positions, sponsored by Moscow’s V-A-C Foundation, are part of a larger commitment by the museum to deepen the Tate’s knowledge and expertise in the field of Russian Art. The museum’s past acquisitions include works by Collective Actions, Andrei Monastyrsky, Boris Orlov, Timur Novikov and Alexander Slyusarev.

Posted by: Polina Dubik 

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