Artists end collaborations with Russia, but not everyone agrees cultural boycotts are the right approach

As Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine continued over the weekend, artists and cultural figures reacted by calling for their ongoing exhibitions in Russia to be closed or by suspending collaborative projects. But not everyone agrees that cultural boycotts are an appropriate approach to push back against actions taken by the Russian government.

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, who was behind the acclaimed inaugural exhibition at the VAC Foundation’s new venue GES-2 in Moscow, has announced he is ending his performance art installation “Santa Barbara – A living sculpture” with immediate effect.

“In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I believe it is a mistake to continue the performance of ‘Santa Barbara’ in GES-2,” the artist wrote to VAC Thursday in a statement. statement shared with Artnet News. He also decided to close the group exhibition he co-organized at GES-2. The museum implemented the demands, adding in its statement announcing the program changes that it “cannot turn a blind eye to the tragic events that we have all witnessed.”

Ragnar Kjartansson, Santa Barbara, (2021-22). Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.

As the Russian military laid siege to several towns around Ukraine over the weekend, there were growing calls on social media for a cultural boycott of Russia. Pavlo Makov, the artist slated to represent Ukraine at the 59th Venice Biennale in April, is among a group of around 25 signatories to an open letter requiring that the international art community applies strong “cultural sanctions” against Russia, including banning Russian artists from art world events such as the Venice Biennale, Art Basel and Documenta.

Anton Vidokle, a Moscow-born, New York-based artist and founder of art platform e-flux also asked to end his exhibition, “Citizens of the Cosmos”, on the bill at the new State Tretyakov Gallery in the Russian capital. Initially, Vidokle – who has Russian and Ukrainian parents – was against the closure “because it would play into the hands of the government: they don’t like critical contemporary art and have recently closed many artistic initiatives”, said he declared, referring to state censorship.

Dutch the artist Constant Dullaart managed to have his work removed from the major collective exhibition “Diversity United” simultaneously on display at the New State Tretyakov Gallery. Dullaart published a video on Instagram of his conceptual installation, based on flags of various countries including that of Ukraine, dismantled on Friday by gallery staff. “I believe anyone who is in a position to remove their work from state galleries, museums and exhibits should do so immediately,” he said. job on Twitter.

The curators behind the collective exhibition also demanded that the entire exhibition, a major display of more than 100 European artists, be closed immediately in “a gesture of protest against Vladimir Putin’s decision to make war on Ukraine,” according to a lead organizer by email, Walter Smerling. sent to the Tretyakov Gallery and seen by Artnet News. But so far both “Diversity United” and Vidokle exhibits remain viewable. Artnet News has contacted the museum to confirm whether it plans to close the exhibits in response to the requests, but did not hear back at press time.

Cultural repression also took place at the institutional level. Today, Herman Parzinger, director of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, confirmed that the top German institution was suspending its projects with Russian partners, according to Monopoly.

Constant Dullaart's work has been removed from the New Tretyakov Gallery.  Courtesy of the artist.

Constant Dullaart’s work has been removed from the New Tretyakov Gallery. Courtesy of the artist.

“Targeting the wrong people”

Not all artists support cultural boycotts of Russia. The French artist Ségolène Haehnsen Kan, currently in Moscow to install an exhibition of paintings at the Surface Lab Art Gallery, maintains her personal exhibition. “Art shouldn’t be prevented by war,” said Haehnsen Kan, who performed yesterday at the WIP Art Center in Moscow as a tribute to a Ukrainian artist friend. “It is important for Ukrainian artists to know that Russian artists support them,” they added.

Famous New York-based Ukrainian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have said they “don’t believe” in cultural sanctions. “Cultural ties are things that can bring people together when politicians fail and dialogue is important as long as we are able to create it, especially through cultural exchange,” they told Artnet News.

Belgian artist David Claerbout, who exhibited last year at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, warned against the “dramatic gestures” of the cultural boycott. “Artists who consider influencing the political balance by boycotting cultural life have no idea how lighthearted they really are and are probably targeting the wrong people,” he told Artnet News. Yet he said the idea of ​​working on a Russian exhibition would currently be inconceivable: “Art in times of ‘flight or fight’ seems impossible to me due to the presence of shock.”

The opening of the new Garage building designed by architect Rem Koolhaas in 2015. Photo by Ivan Simonov, courtesy of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.

Paris-based Russian artist Olga Kisseleva said boycotting “is tantamount to depriving society of the support these tools could provide.” Kisseleva has collaborated with her Ukrainian colleague Taisya Polichuk on a video performance that will be presented during an upcoming collective exhibition, “Warrior women, women in combat”, at the Topographie de l’Art in Paris.

Furthermore, Paris-based Russian artist Andrei Molodkin suggested that canceling exhibitions would benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin: “It’s Putin’s dream not to have contemporary art or discussion criticism,” said Molodkin, who has long criticized Russia’s “broken concepts of democracy” in transparent sculptures filled with crude oil.

From within the country, projects are also cancelled. The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded by art collectors Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich, released a statement on Saturday that it would postpone its planned exhibitions of Anne Imhof, Helen Marten and other international artists scheduled for this year, in the light of the current crisis. Until “the human and political tragedy unfolding in Ukraine has ceased”, the museum said in a statement that it “cannot support the illusion of normality”.

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James C. Tibbs