Contemporary art News Russian Federation

Publicity stunt trunk is packed with deeper meaning

Russia’s art scene sees Louis Vuitton-branded structure in Red Square as a cultural critique

The Louis Vuitton trunk built in the middle of Red Square has been called "the timeliest artistic statement about modern-day Russia"

A building-sized Louis Vuitton trunk, constructed last week in the middle of Red Square just opposite Lenin’s mausoleum, created a bureaucratic headache in Moscow that quickly led authorities to dismantle the structure. On Thursday, workers started taking down the trunk, which was meant to serve as an exhibition space to raise funds for a children’s charity programme, run by the supermodel Natalia Vodianova.

Russia’s intelligentsia and art scene saw something more profound than just the talk of corruption and incompetence that surrounded the incongruous object, however. Some have called the trunk an unintended contemporary art installation that depicts, with cutting precision, the essence of modern Russia. One commentator even suggested that it is worthy of the Kandinsky Prize, Russia’s largest and most prestigious contemporary art award.

“If you think about it, the trunk is the best installation in the past year, the timeliest artistic statement about modern-day Russia, a reconsideration and resignification of a sacral space,” wrote Sergei Medvedev, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and columnist for the Russian edition of Forbes. “I propose that it be nominated for ‘Innovatsiya’ [Innovation, backed by Russia’s Culture Ministry] or the Kandinsky Prize,” he said. Medvedev pointed out that the winner of the Innovatsiya Prize in 2011 was the Liteiny Bridge in St Petersburg, on which the Voina art collective painted a penis, while in 2012, the punk rock activists Pussy Riot were nominated for the Kandinsky Prize. “And this year—the trunk.”

The fact that conceptual artist Petr Pavlensky nailed his testicles to Red Square earlier this month has helped place the trunk smack into the middle of artistic discourse.

Marat Guelman, the politically vocal curator and gallerist, told the Russian news site Gazeta.ru, that the trunk is rife with post-modern meaning. “Of course there are amusing parallels—LV, Louis Vuitton, Lenin Vladimir,” he said. “And this chance communication adds new meanings to the project.”

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