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Putin’s handling of Crimean crisis backed by some Russian museum leaders

But Hermitage, Tretyakov and Pushkin directors' names missing from letter of support

President Vladimir Putin leading a cabinet meeting in Moscow this week. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Associated Press

More than 100 Russian cultural figures have signed a letter in support of President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine that was posted on the website of Russia’s culture ministry on Tuesday evening.

The short letter begins with the words: “In these days, when the fate of Crimea and our compatriots is being decided, Russia’s cultural figures cannot be cold-hearted, indifferent observers.” Signatories, ranging from museum and art school directors, to writers, musicians and filmmakers, say that they want a “stable future” for people who share a “common history” and cultural and spiritual roots, and “firmly express support” for Putin’s position on Ukraine and Crimea. A referendum to vote on whether the region should join Russia is scheduled for 15 March.

While the directors of many museums have signed the appeal, including the heads of Moscow’s State Literary Museum and State Historical Museum, and St Petersburg’s Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve, prominent in their absence are Mikhail Piotrovsky of the State Hermitage Museum, Irina Lebedeva of the State Tretyakov Gallery and Marina Loshak of the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (although 91-year-old Irina Antonova, who was the Pushkin museum’s director until last July and is now its president, is listed as a signatory).

The signature of Dmitry Bak, the director of the State Literary Museum, is especially troubling to some, since he is seen as a member of the liberal intelligentsia. He responded at length via Facebook on Wednesday afternoon defending his decision, saying that he lived in Western Ukraine for years and “feel myself to be Ukrainian”.

The Hermitage’s director general, Mikhail Piotrovsky, says in a statement: “I never sign collective letters. When I’m asked, if I want to express my opinion, then I do so personally.” Like other Russians, he says he would like to see the country succeed without damaging its reputation. But “‘winning’ is not identical to military ‘conquering’,” he says. “Something else is needed here… We must preserve the bridges between peoples.”

Just hours before the letter was posted, Piotrovsky and the curator of the Manifesta biennial Kasper Konig issued a statement that says the exhibition will go on as planned in St Petersburg starting in late June, despite calls to boycott it because of Russia’s incursion into Crimea. “We believe cancelling the project plays directly into the current escalation of the ‘cold war’ rhetoric and fails to acknowledge the complexity of these geo-politics,” the organisers say in the statement.

A number of Russian artists, however, have come out in support of Ukraine, and against the government’s actions in Crimea. Petr Pavlensky, the artist who nailed his scrotum to Red Square in protest against Putin last year, was charged with disorderly conduct in St Petersburg last month for recreating part of the Kiev Maidan protests that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Nikita Kadan, a leftist activist artist from Ukraine who has worked closely with Russian galleries, says “there has been a great deal of support from Russian friends” adding that none approve of the government’s military aggression. “Many of those whom I know have gone to anti-war demonstrations in Moscow and in St Petersburg. People are taking the risk of being detained and fined, so they are making a very serious choice.”

Nonetheless, a show of his with two other Ukrainian artists, Lada Nakonechna and Mykola Ridnyi, that was due to open at Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow on 7 March, has been postponed indefinitely because of the events in Ukraine. Anton Belov, the director of Garage, told The Art Newspaper that the exhibition was postponed because the artists and curators thought the project in its current form would elicit “more outrage and misunderstanding” over the situation. The show was originally conceived in December and January as “an investigative exhibition about the protest actions” in Ukraine, before events took a deadly turn.

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13 Mar 14
15:17 CET


We know what Pussy Riot artists think of Putin. Russia is bogged down in the 20th century. Nor is it alone in this. The people of Uruguay have the first 21st century economy and culture. Give Greece A Chance ? Try Uruguay.

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