Museums News Russian Federation

Director of Perm’s contemporary art museum fired

Prosecutors are investigating Marat Guelman’s finances and the artists he has shown for signs of “extremism”

Marat Guelman at the opening of White Nights in Perm

The Russian contemporary art impresario Marat Guelman has been fired as the director of the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art, which he created in 2008 as part of a project to turn the drab military-industrial Soviet city into a modern art center like Bilbao. Prosecutors are investigating Geulman’s financial practices and are looking into the work of an artist he recently exhibited for evidence of “extremism”, a sign of the changing political winds in Russia and a crack down on contemporary art.

The announcement came on 19 June, after authorities had shut down the exhibition “Welcome! Sochi 2014”, part of the annual “White Nights in Perm” summer festival organised by Guelman, which ended on Sunday. Russia’s political opposition regard the impending Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics as a corrupt Kremlin vanity project, and the exhibition included a depiction of Stalin decked out as an Olympic mascot.

Perm prosecutor’s launched an investigation into the finances of the White Nights festival in early June. Last week, after he was fired, Guelman tweeted that police had confiscated works by Vasily Slonov, a Siberian artist who had created the mocking painting of Stalin, to investigate them for “extremism”. Police denied taking the works, saying they used images found online in their investigation.

Guelman’s position has been precarious for some time. He opened the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art in 2009 under the then governor, Oleg Chirkunov, a businessman who was an avid supporter of the region’s modern art ambitions. Chirkunov resigned last year and the appointment of Viktor Basargin, Russia’s former regional development minister, was seen as a death knell for Perm’s contemporary art scene.

Basargin wrote in a blog post that the dismissal was due to Guelman using state funds to promote his own image. “Guelman’s initiatives in recent weeks come down to attracting a certain kind of attention to himself,” wrote Basargin. “These are the latest attempts to ‘capitalise’ on his name, and it must be said that he is consistently successful in this. It turns out that the strategy and the goals of our joint work have diverged. When a venue and it events, which are primarily organised and funded with state money, are used for personal interests, it gives the regional and city authorities not only the right to say ‘fie upon you’, but to resort to more decisive measures.”

Despite being fired, Guelman flew to Perm over the weekend for the final days of the festival which, he said, drew over one million visitors over the month. “All of this looks like they received an order from Moscow. To find something at any cost,” he wrote about his dismissal in a Facebook post before taking off for Perm. “And this is even though I’m not in any way part of the opposition, but simply a person who openly speaks what I think. In short, soon you’ll learn that I transported narcotics, am a pedophile or work for the CIA.”

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