— I imagine that the calls to boycott (or not participate in) Manifesta by a number of artists in connection with the events in the Crimea must have been nerve-wracking for you.
— The calls for a boycott were addressed not to the Hermitage, but to the Manifesta Foundation. They came mostly from artists who had not been invited to participate. But [Manifesta 10 chief curator Kasper] König’s project involves a number of important international artists, whom neither the left nor the right can suspect of collaborationism. Manifesta is an event that is free from censorship, but that operates according to Russian laws. Everyone is free to decide independently what is important to them: being involved in an art project or voicing their political stance in another way.
— Is it possible to be an artist and not be a citizen?
— “A poet you may not be / But be a citizen you must.” [Ozerkov here quotes an oft-quoted line from “Poet and Citizen,” a poem by the 19th-century Russian poet Nikolai Nekrasov.] I believe that you can be a professional in your field and have a civic stance. But they are completely different things. If an artist is leftwing, it doesn’t alway mean they’re a good professional. If you oppose the authorities and their individual decisions, this does not instantly make you a good artist. Exceptions are rare. Those who try to combine these concepts, in my opinion, are trying to compare apples and oranges. If, for example, you perform music and stop playing because there are lies and war in the world, then your civic stance prevents you from continuing to be an artist. But it’s always your choice. It seems to me that in a modern liberal capitalist society, some people have the right to make art, and others have the right to look at it, regardless of what is going on in their heads regarding politics.
Source: “Dimitri Ozerkov on Manifesta,” DW, undated, although presumably published in the spring or summer of 2014. Translated by the Russian Reader
Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky shows then-Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko the main exhibition at Manifesta 10, General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 6 July 2014. Dimitri Ozerkov, who now suddenly wants nothing to do with Russia and its bad ways, is the younger chap standing behind the two Putinist satraps beaming like a kid in a candy shop. Manifesta 10 took place hard on the heels of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its “proxy” invasion of Eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014. I found this photo in my archives the other day. Unfortunately, I have no idea who took it or where it was originally published. Governor Poltavchenko’s visit to Manifesta 10 was well documented in the local and Russian press at the time, although, curiously, most of the photos in those press accounts have gone missing. ||| TRR
The show must go on and will go on.
At a press conference in London this morning, Kasper König, curator of the controversial Manifesta 10, and professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg—where the biennial will be held this summer—restated they won’t allow current events in Russia and the Ukraine to interfere with the show.
“We operate in the territory of art, which has its own rules,” Piotrovsky said at the press conference. “We have to show that there are things that are more important than politics.”
Fifty-seven artists, including eight Russians, are to be exhibited at the main show, which will unfold between the Winter Palace and the newly opened General Staff Building.
Since the passing of the federal law last June forbidding “gay propaganda”, the 10th anniversary edition of the self-labeled “roving European biennial of contemporary art” has been under fire for what is seen as a tacit endorsement of the Russian government. A first petition launched by Irish artist Noel Kelly asked the Manifesta Foundation to reconsider its choice of St. Petersburg—a potentially dramatic decision for Manifesta, as €3,000,000 of its €4,500,000 total budget comes directly from the host.
Criticism intensified with the events in Crimea. Another petition asked König to suspend the event until the departure of Russian troops from the Ukraine. The St. Petersburg–based artists collective Chto Delat publicly withdrew in March, following Manifesta’s public statement that the biennial would stay in the former Russian capital. “Neither curator nor institution are capable of rising to the challenge of a dramatically evolving political situation,” the group wrote on its blog, “and we cannot be held hostage by its corporate policies.” The Polish artist Pawel Althamer and his collaborator also withdrew.
The Ukraine [sic] was little discussed at this morning’s press conference. König described Manifesta’s relationship with Chto Delat as “friendly, productive, and a continuous discussion” and the exhibition as a “birthday present to the Hermitage,” which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year.
Both König and Piotrovsky insisted on how unpopular contemporary art is in Russia, arguing that exhibiting artists rarely shown in the country was in itself a strong act. “It’s political in a larger context,” said König, who is stringing together heavy hitters such as Joseph Beuys, Bruce Nauman, Gerhard Richter, the Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov, as well as Karla Black and Susan Philipsz.
LGBT politics are entering the show with the work of the American-French painter Nicole Eisenman, whose work will be shown alongside that of Maria Lassnig and Marlène Dumas in the world-famous “Matisse Rooms” at the Winter Palace.
But König is avoiding everything that could be interpreted as overt. To Dumas, who wanted to make a series of portraits of famous gay men, he said: “OK, but this a bit simplistic.” The series, which features the likes of Oscar Wilde and Tchaikovsky, is now presented as being “of famous men.”
As if to justify what could be described as a rather tame approach given the political situation, Piotrovsky concluded: “There is a very strong trend to isolation in Russia, and all boycotts only make Russia more isolated, and closed. At the Hermitage our historical mission is to keep the doors open.”
Source: Coline Milliard, “Controversial Manifesta 10 Organizers Condemn Artists Boycotts,” Artnet News, 30 April 2014