Art scene in St Petersburg hits an all-time low
Head of the Hermitage’s contemporary art department offers a bleak assessment of the city’s stagnation
By Sophia Kishkovsky. Web only
Published online: 26 September 2013
St Petersburg’s contemporary art scene is at “a low point”, said Dmitri Ozerkov, the head of the State Hermitage Museum’s contemporary art department. Ozerkov was speaking during a public discussion at the Hermitage Museum earlier this month.
The decline, he said, “is connected to the fact that many have left for Moscow, or gone abroad, for various reasons that we won’t discuss now.” He also pointed to the lack of an art market in St Petersburg. “And then, of course,” he said, “it is very difficult for those artists who have remained, because, even if they are brilliant people they… often [they] don’t have any international contacts.”
Ozerkov’s bleak assessment of the city that was once known for its pioneering attitude to modern art came during the newly launched Calvert Forum, a gathering held on 14 September at the Hermitage’s renovated General Staff Building. The forum is an on-going think tank that aims to examine how Russia’s creative industries can be used to develop the economy. The project is co-organised by St Petersburg State University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences (a joint degree programme with New York’s Bard College), the Hermitage and Calvert 22, a London-based foundation that promotes contemporary art and culture from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Ozerkov was part of a panel that discussed using Berlin as a role model for St Petersburg. He said the two cities are similar because of their shared tragic histories and a current atmosphere of goodwill and focus on culture. Art clusters are starting to develop in St Petersburg, he said, but tax breaks and other government measures are needed to spur further creativity in the city, without infringing on freedom of expression.
He added that the country’s recent anti-gay laws should be re-examined. “I’m afraid these laws, unfortunately, have a very bad influence on that image of the city that we would all like to create,” Ozerkov said. “Our experience has shown that they makes things difficult. People are afraid to come. People start to think twice, and if people start to think something is bad, then things are already really bad.”
For now, he said, the Hermitage is trying to promote modern and contemporary art in stagnant surroundings. “We are swimming, but I don’t think we’re swimming against the current,” he said. “There is no current here. It’s more like still water.”
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