Love Stories: Margarita Tupitsyn curates the Russian Pavilion, while much ado in Baku and London

In her monthly column for Artspace, Baibakov Art Project’s Maria Baibakova writes under the banner “Women of the Art World Unite!”, recounting her encounters with strong women in challenging art scenes, whether that be Moscow, Baku, Dubai or even Paris.  Allow us to add to her list with these new updates?

Margarita Tupitsyn to curate the Russian Pavilion at Venice

Margarita Tupitsyn

Margarita Tupitsyn

When the Stella Art Foundation – headed up by Stella Kesaeva – took over the reins to Russia’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale, one might expect a drier, conceptual program, more in keeping with the foundation’s collection. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you  Andrey Monastyrsky (2011) and Vadim Zakharov (2013), whose installation “Danae” relied on segregating by gender, with women having gold coins “rained” upon them from the men above. While we have respect for both of these artists (if not for all of their projects…) it was a breath of fresh air to hear that the 2015 pavilion would be a solo show of Irina Nakhova. The question remained, after Boris Groys (2011) and Udo Kittelmann (2013), who would be tapped to curate?

That question was answered yesterday, when Artguide broke the news that Stella Art Foundation had selected Margarita Tupitsyn. Along with her husband Victor, Tupitsyn was one of the first influential writers publishing on Moscow Conceptualism, but independently, she has carried out enormous scholarly projects on Soviet photography, Sots Art, Socialist Realism and Malevich.

Club of Friends comes to London

Georgiy Guryanov, Evgeniy Kozlov, Timur Novikov, Igor Verichev in Evgeniy Kozlov flat, Galaxy Gallery, 1987. Photo taken by Paquita Escofet Miro.

Georgiy Guryanov, Evgeniy Kozlov, Timur Novikov, Igor Verichev in Evgeniy Kozlov flat, Galaxy Gallery, 1987. Photo taken by Paquita Escofet Miro.

On the subject of unofficial histories, we were thrilled to see Calvert 22′s latest show, “Club of Friends,” which excerpts for the Moscow Museum of Modern Art‘s exhibition of the New Artists, a ribald movement from Perestroika-era Petersburg, that included such greats as Timur Novikov, Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe (both of whom will be in the upcoming Manifesta) and Georgy Guryanov.

Curated by Katya Andreeva, the show includes paintings, tapestries, and an extensive selection of video, including Pirate TV, which Monroe hosted in drag, often alongside Kathrin Becker. Below is a clip from the series, “Deaths of Celebrities”, which rewrites the story of Marilyn Monroe and JFK:

Meanwhile, Calvert 22 made their own video excerpt, which you can see here:

Club of Friends. Timur Novikov’s New Artists and the New Academy from Calvert 22 Gallery on Vimeo.

The exhibition is on display through May 25. Find more info here.

Love Me, Love Me Not at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku

Detail from Aida Mahmudova, Recycled, 2012-2013. Image courtesy of the artist and YAY Gallery, Baku

Detail from Aida Mahmudova, Recycled, 2012-2013. Image courtesy of the artist and YAY Gallery, Baku

For us, one of the most valuable side projects at the 2013 Venice Biennale was “Love Me, Love Me Not,” a selection of contemporary art “from Azerbaijan and its Neighbors”, curated by Dina Nasser-Khadivi. We’ve been excited about this show for some time, as it includes, among others, Slavs and Tatars, Taus Makhacheva, and Aida Mahmudova, artist and founder of the YARAT Contemporary Art Space.

This second leg of the show will be opened yesterday at the Heydar Alijev Center in Baku – one of Zaha Hadid‘s most recent projects. It is slated to be on view through May 25, 2014, giving another reason to visit this spectacular (and spectacularly strange) city. You can find more about the exhibition here or on its official website

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, designed by Zaha Hadid

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, designed by Zaha Hadid

Posted in London, Moscow, St Petersburg, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From Matisse to Alys in Manifesta 10, while Moscow contemplates an Absolute Wine Factory

Francis Alys, Draft for Lada Project, 2014

Francis Alys, Draft for Lada Project, 2014

Manifesta 10 reveals its artist roster, new website

While curator Kasper Koenig has given us plenty to speculate on earlier, yesterday, Manifesta 10 revealed the list of artists whose work will be featured in the Hermitage this summer via a press conference and a  spiffy new website.

As befitting the encyclopedic museum, the list stretches from Henri Matisse to Joseph Beuys to Cindy Sherman to Slavs and Tatars. In addition, Public Programs’ curator Joanna Warsza has invited contributions from artists including Pawel AlthamerRagnar Kjartansson, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and curators like Ekaterina Degot and Kathrin Becker.

Koenig concluded the conference with a short statement:

In response to the comments I have received regarding the current geopolitical circumstances, I would like to stress that obviously I am very concerned with the escalating crisis, and because of it I do believe it is and should be our goal to continue to make MANIFESTA 10 happen. It is itself a complex entity, to prompt its artists and its viewers to assume their own strong political positions, to pose questions and raise voices. To neglect and quit, would be a sign of escalation. There is vulnerability of this situation, but also a challenge and we shall have a courage to go on, a decision backed up by many Russian colleagues. It is upon us not to be influenced by prejudices against minorities or nationalist propaganda but to reject it. It is more important than ever to continue our work with courage and conviction for the local and international publics.

Guess it’s time we all renewed our visas?

Image from Proun Gallery's exhibition, "SPORTKULT", on view at Winzavod.

Image from Proun Gallery’s exhibition, “SPORTKULT”, on view at Winzavod.

Absolute Wine Factory? Rumors of a change of ownership at Winzavod

On March 14, Artguide broke the news that Winzavod was changing hands, from Roman and Sonya Trotsenko – the founding directors – to Alexander Svetakov, the 46-year old head of Absolute Investment Group (not to be confused with the vodka). In 2013, Svetakov was valued at $2.6 billion, making him the #39 wealthiest Russian, at least, according to The story was quickly picked up in the news, with outlets like Buro 24/7  reminding us that Absolute had recently invested in a brewery that it was planning to redevelop as well. (Meanwhile, Trotsenko – #117 at just shy of a billion – has vowed to complete construction on the Federation Tower, the erstwhile venue for the 2nd Moscow Biennale back in 2007.) explained how this was just one step in plans to create a massive, $10 billion art-kvartal, stretching from Winzavod to Artplay.

On March 16, however, retracted this report after Winzavod issued a statement refuting this change of the guard and assuring everyone that the center would continue to function “as usual.”

Established in 2007, Winzavod has been struggling in recent years, as many of its former staples – XL Gallery, Guelman, Aidan – shuttered or restructured as non-profits.

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Principles’ Day Out: Manifesta’s Destiny, Posthumous Petition-signers and Boycotters branded as Hypocrites

Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male, 2012, performance, 30 mins. Courtesy the artist.

Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male, 2012, performance, 30 mins. Courtesy the artist.

Sydney’s Saga Continues: Boycott Artists branded as Hypocrites

These past two weeks we have reported on how the artists boycott of the Sydney Biennale over its ties to Transfield (a holding company that had recently expanded to include the detention center where a recent asylum-seeker was found dead) had met with a relative success, when the chairman of both Transfield and the Biennale – Luca Belgiorno-Nettis – resigned. While the decision was celebrated by some, others – notably among the Australian arts community – pointed out how this sets a precedent that might scare off future funders (After all, as we pointed out last week, Transfield wasn’t just a corporate sponsor, stepping in. Transfield money gave this biennale its start, and has been supporting it all along.)  The Biennale artists were branded as hypocrites by several media outlets – among them, the Minister of Communications himself, Malcolm Turnbull, who checked the “vicious ingratitude” of the artists– for not distinguishing between Australia, who sets the policies, and Transfield, who enforces them. “The artists that vetoed this need to understand that most arts funding in the country comes from the government, and the government are the ones behind Manus Island,” Mark Carnegie writes (and while we’d love to read more of him, it’s behind the Financial Review paywall.)  Meanwhile, from the lost cause corner, art history professor Roger Benjamin pleads that “We should value the Biennale protest, not threaten arts funding.”

Today on Facebook, boycotting artist Ahmet Öğüt released a short statement recognizing that the boycott process has not been easy on the Biennale team. He then confirms that he will in fact participate, and what’s more, that he will donate his artist’s fees to the Biennale.

The biennale is set to open March 21. When we checked the website, there was no mention of any drama, other than that they still need volunteers for Eglė Budvytytė’s Choreography for the Running Male performance. 

Still from Chto Delat, “A Border Musical” 2013.

Still from Chto Delat, “A Border Musical” 2013.

Meanwhile, Manifesta…

As we also mentioned last week, the day after Transfield announced that it would pull its support, Manifesta’s Victor Misiano went on Russian TV and admitted that a similar boycott strategy could work for Manifesta, which is facing a fresh round of protest now demanding that the artists and curator refuse to participate so long as Russia does not pull out of the Crimea. 

On March 11, Manifesta responded with a statement of their own, confirming that the exhibition will go on as planned. We’ve culled a few excerpts from curator Kasper Koenig‘s personal response, which you can find in its entirety here:

I feel very strongly about the necessity of the biennial – for St. Petersburg and for the public. The exhibition is part of a larger process involving art, education, public discussions, civil developments, and more. The situation has escalated since our work began but I do not think that this implies support (by the State Hermitage Museum and its Director Dr. Piotrovsky, by the Manifesta Foundation and its Director Hedwig Fijen, or by me) for Russia’s present political and military actions. To stop our work for any reason other than its literal and practical impossibility is not an answer to the current situation…

The main concern here is to grapple with all the possibilities that the art offers and understand the breadth of perspectives that it presents and opens up. I do not aspire to simply present commentary and, more importantly, I hope to present far more than just commentary on the present political circumstances…

All artists were invited to participate with the following statement: “Of course the political circumstances are currently delicate and unpleasant, and we have to make sure not to censor ourselves. It is important to me that my contract guarantees artistic freedom, however within Russian law. Still, we hope to exhibit substantial artworks that do not resort to cheap provocations. The environment and the possibilities for this exhibition are very rich and it would be a mistake to reduce our possibilities down to the level of just making a particular political statement.”

Not everyone is happy with this response, however. ArtLeaks announced yesterday that the Chto Delat collective would be pulling out of Manifesta in support of the anti-war movement. As we’ve cited before, Chto Delat has earlier advocated against boycotts, urging the community to consider this as exactly the type of platform to air their grievances. Now it would seem their position has been reversed :

Kaspar König’s most recent statement denigrates any attempts to address the present situation in Russia by artistic means, demoting them to “self-righteous representation” and “cheap provocation” and thus effectively preemptively censoring them.We see now from this official reaction that neither curator nor institution are capable of rising to the challenge of a dramatically evolving political situation, and we cannot be held hostage by its corporate policies, however reasonable they would sound under different circumstance….

As we have said before, we are generally against boycotts and especially as far as international cultural projects in Russia are concerned. A cultural blockade will only strengthen the position of reactionary forces at a time when the marginalized anti-war movement in Russia so desperately needs solidarity. But our aim at least should be to turn every cultural project into a manifestation of dissent against the Russian government’s policy of violence, repressions, and lies. Even if you are staging Shakespeare or exhibiting Matisse, the task of culture today is to find the artistic language to bring home that simple message.

Sadly, Manifesta cannot rise to this challenge. Had the situation remained as it was, with a soft authoritarianism continuing to stagnate in Russia, the project might have been a positive factor for the further development of a fledgling public sphere. But as conditions worsen and reactionary forces grow stronger by the day, Manifesta has shown that it can respond with little more than bureaucratic injunctions to respect law and order in a situation where any and all law has gone to the wind. For that reason, any participation in the Manifesta 10 exhibition loses its initial meaning.

You can find Chto Delat’s full statement here at ArtLeaks.

Manifesta is slated to have a full press conference on March 25, during which it will reveal further details, including the 43 artists who have signed on to participate.


Vladimir Tsigal, Shepherd's House, from the series "Dagestan," 1956-1960

Vladimir Tsigal, Shepherd’s House, from the series “Dagestan,” 1956-1960

Posthumous Pro-Putin Petitioning 

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Culture produced a long and star-studded list of artists, actors and performers who approve of Putin’s presence in the Crimea. Over 500 strong, the roster includes Zurab Tsereteli, dapper don of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art syndicate; Irina Antonova, former director and current president of the Pushkin MuseumFedor Bondarchuk, a crossover actor/film director; and, up until recently, artist Victor Tsigal, a painter and popular illustrator who was recruited to help design the Soviet ruble. “Up until recently,” because yesterday, a day or two after the list was published, Marat Guelman took to his Twitter to point out that #468 passed away in 2005. Those who were quick to defend the list, saying that they must have meet Victor’s brother, Vladimir, also an artist, had to face the unfortunate fact that the lesser known V.E. Tsigal had died on June 4, 2013.

Shortly after Guelman aired his finding, entry #468 was removed from the list. We should still presume this to mean that the artist would support Putin, if he could…
Even as we write this, we’re getting updates about the March for Peace in Moscow. Let’s hope with the next round-up, we have some cheerier news?


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Curator Ekaterina Degot to Cologne’s Akademie der Kunste der Welt

Curator Kasper Koenig with Katya Degot in Bergen, 2013. Photo Kate Sutton, courtesy of

Curator Kasper Koenig with Katya Degot in Bergen, 2013. Photo Kate Sutton, courtesy of

We’re interrupting our new digest format to deliver what we feel is some pretty significant news for Moscow, which we discovered through Artguide: curator Ekaterina Degot (known by most of the Russian art world at “Katya”) has taken on a two-year post as Art Director at the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne. In doing so, she joins academy members Walid Raad, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Soyoung Kim and Rosemarie Trockel.

Degot, as you might recall, was one of the two forces behind this year’s Bergen Triennial, “Monday Begins on Saturday,” which is currently up for the state-funded Innovation prize for Curatorial Project (Her partner-in-crime, David Riff, is also headed to Cologne.) Another of her more recent projects in the Motherland was “Auditorium Moscow,” a forum concurrently with the 4th Moscow Biennale, that brought together artists and thinkers like Yael Bartana, Tania Bruguera, Hito Steyerl and Artur Żmijewski. Degot has also been the face of the Rodchenko School, which provides one of the only official media art programs in the country.  You can find an extended biography here, on the Akademie der Künste der Welt‘s site.

In all the talk of biennales and boycotts, Degot was one of the few curators who stood out as a critical voice, capable of formulating a cohesive critique without resorting to cheap provocations or political platitudes. While we congratulate Katya and look forward to her future projects in Cologne, we do hope that she will continue her work in Russia (now, more than ever…)

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Let’s Change It All: Sydney Biennale’s parting with Transfield gives hope to Manifesta protests

Hubert Czerepok, Let’s Change It All, 2011 (video still), HD video documentation of performance, 120 mins. Courtesy the artist and ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin. Photograph: Robert Mleczko. Commissioned by the Polish National Centre for Culture, Warsaw

Hubert Czerepok, Let’s Change It All, 2011 (video still), HD video documentation of performance, 120 mins. Courtesy the artist and ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin. Photograph: Robert Mleczko. Commissioned by the Polish National Centre for Culture, Warsaw

Let’s Change It All: The Biennale and Transfield Part Ways

This Wednesday, four artists – Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray  – joined their colleagues Libia CastroÓlafur ÓlafssonCharlie SofoGabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt to announce their withdrawal from the Biennale. Today, in one of those rare turns, the artistic statement yielded immediate consequences. There wasn’t the announcement of a series of “conversations” about the situation, there wasn’t the resolution to “think critically about the future” of the biennale. The Biennale cut its ties with Transfield. What’s more, the chairman of both the Biennale and Transfield, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis – whose father Franco created both institutions – ended his 14 year streak at the helm with a letter of resignation.

What’s interesting in this is not just that the protest worked. It also brought to light a few particularly intriguing details withheld earlier, namely that Transfield Holdings – much  bigger than Transfield Services, the company it uses to manage its detention center – isn’t just a corporate sponsor; the Belgiorno-Nettis family founded the biennale. Transfield is one of the major sponsors of a number of art institutions, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the Australian Chamber Orchestra,  Sculpture by the Sea and Accessible Arts, a program aimed at fostering creative expression within the  community of those with disabilities. The Transfield Foundation provides grants to “groundbreaking arts organizations,” with an explicit statement of support for the arts in all forms. That said, the billion dollar contract for detention centers built to enforce Australia’s laws were enough to give up a biennale over.

We’re still waiting to hear what’s next for the Sydney Biennale, which is due to open on March 21, when, amongst other activities, Hubert Czerepok is supposed to present a performance titled Let’s Change It All.

Image from the Change.Org Protest

Image from the Change.Org Protest

Et tu, Manifesta?

It didn’t take long for the same people posting news about Transfield to switch gears to Manifesta. As the drama over the Crimea continues to unfold (somehow only getting more complicated, not less…), so has the international art community’s resistance to Manifesta 10, which has already been the subject of many of protest due to St Petersburg’s laws against homosexual propaganda. Curator Kasper Koenig had seemed to weather the latter, dropping hints of a smart show that focused on body politics by narrowing in on the body, speaking politically through the most indirect means (and artists like Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas and Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe). The biennale was due to announce a full artist roster later this month, but now it finds itself besieged by a new set of protests, resolving to boycott the event until Russia ends its illegal occupation of the Crimea.

You can find the Change.Org protest here.

Manifesta’s Victor Misiano appeared on Canal Dozhd to answer questions as to whether or not a letter like this could make a difference. He notes that the letter is not aimed at the Manifesta Foundation, but rather addressed to the curator and the participating artists, asking them to each make the decision for themselves whether they want to participate under the current political atmosphere.  As we have learned from the Sydney situation, this may be the most effective strategy. Whether it will work for this particular case – if one or two artists withdraw, Manifesta still has the entire Hermitage at its disposal – remains to be seen.

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Not Imagined, Not Desired: Art and Responsibility in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Sydney

Ahmet Ogut, from the series Stones to Throw, 2011

Ahmet Ogut, from the series Stones to Throw, 2011

This week, we’ve been watching the situation in Ukraine and the Crimea (all we can say, never trust an “unanimous vote” in Russia – at least not where oil money is involved), but to quote Zaha Hadid, there are “discrepancies all over the world,” so we’re turning our attention to some of the issues of art and responsibility that have made the art world headlines this week. 

The question of an artist’s responsibility to the society he or she is addressing is a persistent problem within the art world. (And we don’t mean the kind that get resolved.) Typically, this line of argument is invoked when dealing with artists who are disseminating deliberately provocative messages – think Pussy Riot – then claiming that these personal expressions should enjoy the protections of free speech. A second instance that it comes up is within sponsorship situations, and we’ve got a few prime examples coming up. 

Amazing LegacyNot an Architect’s Duty: Zaha Hadid under fire for her comments about Qatar

Recently made Dame, architect Zaha Hadid is following up her work at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery with – among myriad other projects – the Al Wakrah Stadium, site of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Here’s a short presentation on its design:

The stadium has already come under fire for its striking resemblance to female genitalia (We know, we know, a male architect builds a skyscraper, we call it phallic, a female architect builds a stadium, we call it vaginal, but, well …  look at it.) Now it’s in the news again, after Hadid made a few frank comments about her role in the exploitation of workers in the Gulf. In brief:  “It’s not my duty as an architect to look at [worker’s rights]… I can make a statement, a personal statement, about the situation with the workers, but I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.”

The reality is, Hadid’s stadium is one of the five that are currently planned for the World Cup – it also just happens to be the most prominent project. The question is, is it an architect’s duty to answer for the conditions around a building? Should an architect be held responsible for the conditions under which a building is consisted, particularly when this issue is not exceptional, but rather systemic within a given region? Should they be responsible for where the funds paying for the building come from? And, by that logic, should they be responsible for the activities that take place in that building? Each question leads to another, and there are no easy answers. In her comments, Hadid notes that there are troubling situations all over the world – not the least of which is the situation in her hometown of Baghdad – but does that mean architects should stop building altogether?  (As the follow sections show, we’re not only asking about the case of Qatar.)

Image of the February 22 protest at the Guggenheim. Image courtesy of GULF, found on Hyperallergic.

Image of the February 22 protest at the Guggenheim. Image courtesy of GULF, found on Hyperallergic.

G.U.L.F. Protests at the Guggenheim

This wasn’t the only Emirate-themed uproar this week. Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian was on the scene last Saturday at the Guggenheim New York, where the museum was hosting its pay-what-you-wish hours. Visitors to the newly-opened “Italian Futurism” show got a little taste of the “polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals” when roughly forty protesters infiltrated the crowd, taking to the iconic spiral ramp to unfurl banners and shower leaflets down on the foyer, while chanting, “Who is building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi?”

Vartanian captured some of the protest on film, which you can watch here:

The author describes some of the interactions with the protesters, who hold a markedly different stance than Hadid:

 “Art, among other things, is about doing, living, and imagining a better world,” said artist Nitasha Dhillon of MTL Collective. “Art should not violate human rights, art should not endanger workers lives, and art should not create debt slaves. And definitely not be part of a system that creates debt bondage.”

Find Vartanian’s full account here. Since the posting, the Guggenheim’s director Richard Armstrong issued a short statement reflecting his concern for the situation, but also noting that, technically, NO ONE is building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, as it still hasn’t entered into construction. From here, things rapidly devolved, with the protesters – organized as G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction) – charging that the museum was underpaying its guards, while the Guggenheim defends that its staff security receive competitive wages and benefits, though occasional event staff may earn by the hour. And from there, it really gets into squabbling. (If, as G.U.L.F. claims, the situation demands in Abu Dhabi demands a public discussion, it’s a shame they themselves could not stay on topic. )

Imagine No Transfield

Breathe easy, Sharjah: not all of this week’s protests were Gulf-related.

Last week the death of an asylum seeker in a detention center administered by Transfield – one of the largest sponsors of the Sydney Biennale, which is set to open March 21 with the dreamy title “You Imagine What You Desire” – prompted a number of the artists to band together behind a plea to the biennale to disassociate itself with this sponsor, who they felt was not an appropriate alliance for the context of contemporary art. From the open letter stating their case [our emphases]:

We appeal to you to work alongside us to send a message to Transfield, and in turn the Australian Government and the public: that we will not accept the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, because it is ethically indefensible and in breach of human rights; and that, as a network of artists, arts workers and a leading cultural organisation, we do not want to be associated with these practices.

Our current circumstances are complex: public institutions are increasingly reliant on private finance, and less on public funding, and this can create ongoing difficulties. We are aware of these complexities and do not believe that there is one easy answer to the larger situation.

However, in this particular case, we regard our role in the Biennale, under the current sponsorship arrangements, as adding value to the Transfield brand. Participation is an active endorsement, providing cultural capital for Transfield.

Now here’s where it really ties this post together:

Our interests as artists don’t merely concern our individual moral positions. We are concerned too with the ways cultural institutions deal with urgent social responsibilities. We expect the Biennale to acknowledge the voice of its audience and the artist community that is calling on the institution to act powerfully and immediately for justice by cutting its ties with Transfield.

We believe that artists and artworkers can—and should—create an environment that empowers individuals and groups to act on conscience, opening up other pathways to develop more sustainable, and in turn sustaining, forms of cultural production.

We want to extend this discussion to a range of people and organisations, in order to bring to light the various forces shaping our current situation, and to work towards imagining other possibilities into being. In our current political circumstances we believe this to be one of the most crucial challenges that we are compelled to engage with, and we invite you into this process of engagement.

The Sydney Biennale’s response was tepid, at best, written, one imagines in the hope that the artists might back down from this “most crucial challenge” and talk it out. The Board of Directors replied that they “truly empathise with artists in this situation. Like them, we are inadvertently caught somewhere between ideology and principle. Both parties are ‘collateral damage’ in a complex argument. Neither wants to see human suffering.” That said…:

The Biennale has long been a platform for artists to air their sometimes challenging but important views unfettered and we would like to explore this avenue of expression, rather than see the demise of an important community asset.

Read the full response here.

Needless to say, this was an unsatisfactory answer for the artists. On February 26, 2014, five of them – Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt – withdrew from the Biennale altogether. Öğüt clarified his own position in a post called “Making Decisions with Heart in a Time of Crisis,” which begins:

Maintaining ethical standards in the art world is the responsibility not only of artists, but also cultural institutions and those who support them. Any decision taken by an institution should be made with respect for its public, the people who work for it and the artists who collaborate with it.

Read the artist’s full statement here.

So in short, this week has given us a lot to think about. It will be interesting to watch how these decisions and statements play out (but here we are, imagining what we desire, which is that these questions aren’t just ignored.)

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Innovation honors Monroe, FIAC in Petersburg, and Bugaev Strikes Again

So with so much going on, we’ve decided to start a kind of digest format. Let us know what you think?

This year’s Innovation Prize will pay tribute Monroe

Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe,  Polonius, 2012.

Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Polonius, 2012.

This week, Innovation – the Russia National Center for Contemporary Art‘s annual prize – announced its nominees for it’s ninth edition. Unlike the ArtChronika Foundation’s Kandinksy Prize, which is limited to Project of the Year and Young Artist, Innovation honors a wide range of practice,  recognizing art history and criticism, curatorial projects and the catch-all “regional” category (which is sketchy with its georgraphy. How is it that Katya Degot and David Riff’s Bergen Triennale is nominated for curatorial project, when Taus Makhacheva‘s “The Story Demands to Be Continued” is considered a “regional project?”)

See the full list of nominees here.

As a special touch, this year’s ceremony – slated for April 9 – will take time to posthumously honor Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, who is also up for Work of Art, for his turn playing Polonius.

FIAC  à la russe?

Russia may be getting a new art fair. No, not the return of Cosmoscow (Cosmos cow? Sorry, while the name still makes us smile, we really did think it was a strong concept…) but rather a franchise editions of a tested brand. Artguide reports that FIAC – Paris’s Foire internationale d’art contemporain – is considering conducting the fair in St Petersburg in 2015. The Hermitage’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, graciously offered the museum’s General Staff building, which has been earmarked as the contemporary ring. (Wonder how many fairs have taken place in the Louvre…?)  In the statement, Petersburg’s vice governer Vasily Kichedge boasted of all the great collectors, museum folk and tourists the fair would bring to the city, while conveniently neglecting the fact that a fair is not a biennale: it’s a commercial event. This move may bring galleries to Russia, but something tells us they will be taking most of their art back with them when they leave.

From Jackals to Asses: Bugaev Strikes Again

In other Petersburg news – and we hope whatever you’ve just eaten, it’s not likely to come back up while reading this –  The Art Newspaper Russia has more details on Sergey Bugaev-Afrika‘s latest maneuver, in which he was able to win an appeal regarding the court’s November decision that he should return the two dozen works that were “lost” into his private collection. According to The Art Newspaper Russia’s account, the case was argued more or less the exact same way, only with the opposite verdict. Bugaev’s lawyer Andrei Tyndik evoked the idea of “common law,” equating the artists’ quiet grumbles and suspicions around Bugaev and these paintings as their confirmation of rightful ownership, then dips into an uncomfortable argument, reducing the case of stolen property to a popularity contest [Our translation, Russian original here]:

It was a pretty just decision. Judge for yourself: twenty years go by, and people come up and say that they had no idea that their paintings were in the possession of someone else, and that this other person should return them, and they only found out about this right now, etc, etc. This just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s clear this is a situation that was created artificially. There’s this understanding of acquisition by fact. Even if it’s another person’s object, if a person took it and owns it openly and cares for it, then after a certain period of time, he gains the right of possesion by the fact of owning it

In particular, in answer to one of the questions of the court, as to whether [the artists] knew that Bugaev had the paintings, they said, “Yes, we knew.” Did they take any measures to get these paintings back at the time? “Yes, we did.” When? “Twenty years ago.” So how can they claim that after all this time that these paintings just “surfaced”?! Nothing surfaced – they’ve been with Sergey Bugaev this whole time. The artists knew this perfectly well. In fact, they were delighted that their works were with Bugaev, because they themselves were unknowns, as we know, compared to Bugaev-Afrika, who is famous throughout the city and the country… This is a classic case of what we call parasite PR, when there’s an attack on a famous person, and in return the attacker gains recognition.

Lest we corroborate this “parasite PR”, let’s let our fair Bugaev speak for himself:

The opposing side of assholes not <expletive deleted from the record> for one second. Defeated asses, they couldn’t understand where to agree.

Bugaev then announced that he will build a museum for the collection, which at the very least means the artists will get to see their works occasionally…?

Read the full proceedings [in Russian] here.

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2nd Kyiv Biennale moved to 2015

Irina Korina, Triumph, 2014. Image courtesy of the Museum of Moscow.

Irina Korina, Triumph, 2014. Image courtesy of the Museum of Moscow.

So, in our biennale round-up, we were left scratching our heads over Kyiv’s fledgling ARSENALE, which recently named springerin team Hedwig Saxenhuber and Georg Schöllhammer (also head of the collective as the curators of its second edition (following David Elliott’s debut biennale, which, while it may have met with some problems, still hasn’t discouraged the intrepid Brit for signing up to curate this year’s Moscow Biennale of Young Art.) In the Ukraine’s current tug-of-war between Europe and Russia, it seemed unlikely to us that the state would pause to shell out funding for a project so expressly Euro-centric, let alone for a project slated to open already this September.

ARSENALE's November 26, 2013, press conference announcing its new curators

ARSENALE’s November 26, 2013, press conference announcing its new curators

Today, that head-scratching of ours was replaced by a shrug, as it went public that the second biennale will now take place in 2015. “Will now take place” may be too strong. Let’s stick with “is now scheduled for”?

In any case, we wish this project well, but we recognize that the struggle these curators face is about more than not clearing customs or finding the right light bulbs.

Oh, and that picture above of Ira Korina’s Triumph? It actually has nothing to do with the story, but we just love the image. You can see it in the current exhibition, “On Top,” at the Museum of Moscow.

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Irina Nakhova to represent Russia in Venice; Petersburg legal woes for Russian Museum curator, the New Artists

Irina Nakhova, photo Ekaterina Allenova, Artguide

Irina Nakhova, photo Ekaterina Allenova, Artguide

So, while we were finishing up our post on the Petersburg legal woes, Artguide broke the news that artist Irina Nakhovawinner of this year’s Kandinsky Prize – will represent Russia in the next Venice Biennale. Artguide notes that it was Nakhova – not Ilya Kabakov, as popular mythology might lead you to believe – that created Russia’s first total installations. It is still unclear whom commissioner Stella Kasaeva (of the Stella Art Foundation) might tap as curator, though past pavilions have been curated by Boris Groys (2011) and Udo Kittelmann.

Congratulations to Nakhova!

Now our other post:

Sochi Sidewalk, taken by journalist Jo-Ann Barnas

Sochi Sidewalk, taken by journalist Jo-Ann Barnas

So yes, it’s bittersweet reading all the journalists’ responses to the conditions in Sochi (bittersweet because it took us 30 seconds to understand why the photo of two toilets in one stall was so funny. We seem to recall that that’s how the Ural Biennale toilets were built), but anyway – anyway – we’re sad to report that there’s been some Olympic-style wrangling going on in the Petersburg art scene.

Boris Grigoriev, In the Restaurant, 1913

Boris Grigoriev, In the Restaurant, 1913

One of the more publicized cases involves Elena Basner, a respected expert in the Russian Avant-Garde and former curator at the Russian Museum, in charges of aiding and abetting fraud. The case in particular revolves around the $250,000 auctioning off of a forged copy of Boris Grigoriev’s painting, In the Restaurant, 1913, which has actually belonged to the Russian Museum since the 1980s. Charges have been brought to the museum, after it was determined that no such copy would have been possible without the collusion of the institution, who had to have allowed the forgers to work onsite. Basner has been implicated, as it was she who handled all records for the painting. [More on the case here. Non-Russian readers can find an English version of events here.]

Secondly, an appeals court somehow found Sergey Bugaev-Afrika the legal owner of the disputed “lost” paintings, which he “lost” directly into his private collection more than 25 years ago. Four of the artists – Evgeny KozlovOleg MaslovInal Savchenko and Oleg Zaika – had won selected paintings back in a November ruling, but it would seem Afrika has pulled some kind of triple-lutz in court. While we can’t find details of the proceedings (including any clue as to how he might have finagled this), Artguide‘s Masha Kravtsova cracked, “Just look at this face. It tells you everything you need to know”:

Sergey Bugaev-Afrika. Photo Evgeny Asmolov

Sergey Bugaev-Afrika. Photo Evgeny Asmolov

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Meanwhile… (future) History: Mark your calendars for 2014’s Art World Events

Sharjah Art Foundation

Sharjah Art Foundation

While this polar vortex has its way with New York, we’ve decided to turn our attention to all the things to come in the balmier months of the year. We’re not the only ones: this past week there were a surprising amount of updates regarding everything from March Meeting, the Global Art Forum, and a host of biennales.

We consider March Meeting a particular stroke of genius; running in the “off” years of the Sharjah Biennale, the series of panels and conversations keeps Sharjah (and the Sharjah Art Foundation) on the art world’s calendar. This year’s program runs from March 13-17 and features speakers like Sharjah Art Foundation’s Hoor Al-Qasimi,  Sharjah Biennale’s next curator Eungie JooKaelen Wilson-Goldie and a host of artists including Hassan Khan, Wael Shawky, Dahn Vo, Adrian Viller Rojas and (Pinchuk Future Generation Prize alum) Cinthia Marcelle. Check the full program here.

Stas Kharin, Poetic Entente or Occupation of the Heart, 2009, Courtesy of North Caucasus Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art

Stas Kharin, Poetic Entente or Occupation of the Heart, 2009, Courtesy of North Caucasus Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art

The week after, we suggest heading to Art Dubai, which runs from March 19-22. While we always enjoy the show, we are particularly stoked to see that Slavs and Tatars will be guest-curating this year’s Marker showcase, which focuses on emerging galleries from the Caucasus. Zeroing in on “the regime of portraiture,” the section will feature five art spaces from the region: ArtEast (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan); Asia Art (Almaty, Kazakhstan); North Caucasus Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art, NCCA (Vladikavkaz, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, Russia); Popiashvili Gvaberidze Window Project (Tbilisi, Georgia); and YARAT Contemporary Art Space (Baku, Azerbaijian). We’ve previously shot a few shout-outs in YARAT’s direction, after it, among other things, gave us a few reasons to love the region, so we can’t wait to check out what’s in store.

As if that weren’t enough of a draw, the fair runs concurrently to the Global Art Forum, another of our favorites. This year’s edition is titled “Meanwhile…History,” and is once more directed by the fabulous Shumon Basar, this year with some help from the also fabulous Omar Berrada and Ala Younis. A particular highlight of the program will be the “A Documenta Century” talk, which brings together Documenta curators past and present: Catherine David, newly-announced Adam Szymczyk, and the next curator of the Venice Biennale, Okwui Enwezor.

Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male, 2012, performance, 30 mins. Courtesy the artist.

Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male, 2012, performance, 30 mins. Courtesy the artist.

Of course, another alternative to the UAE is Sydney, which will be hosting the 19th Sydney Biennale.  Curator Juliana Engberg has themed it the Euro-housey “You Imagine What You Desire,” and pumped the roster with Douglas Gordon (who will, perplexingly, be delivering a keynote speech. Those who’ve met Douglas can only imagine how he might interpret that assignment…), Gabriel LesterJohn Stezaker, and Yael Bartana. The opening days will be full of events, including a performance by Tacita Dean and a reprise of Eglé Budvytytė‘s Choreography for the Running Male. More info can be found here.

Wan Lee, The Possibility of Impossible Things, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

Wan Lee, The Possibility of Impossible Things, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

Meanwhile, when Jessica Morgan was announced Chief Curator of the 2014 Gwangju Biennale, we knew we’d have fun. And we were right. This week Morgan and her team announced the theme: Burning Down the House. It’s not just a nod to “an anthem of bourgeois anxieties,” as the statement puts it:

Burning Down the House explores the process of burning and transformation, a cycle of obliteration and renewal witnessed throughout history. Evident in aesthetics, historical events, and an increasingly rapid course of redundancy and renewal in commercial culture, the Biennale reflects on this process of, often violent, events of destruction or self-destruction―burning the home one occupies―followed by the promise of the new and the hope for change.

It’s a little less fun to put this statement into another context: namely, Kyiv. We’ve mentioned the obstacles posed to David Elliott, curator of the last Kiev International Biennale of Contemporary Art ARSENALE (and upcoming Moscow Biennale of Young Art.) When the Mystetski Arsenale announced there would be a second biennale at all, we have to confess, we were a bit stunned. All the more so when it was announced that the two editors of the German magazine springerin, Hedwig Saxenhube and Georg Schöllhammer (who, as the head of the collective helped curate the New Museum‘s delightful and confounding “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module.”) So far, it’s not certain if all is still on track, but we’re keeping an eye on Maidan.

In any case, plenty to keep us checking airfare.

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