Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin-affiliated trustees of international museums resigned, blockbuster exhibitions were suspended, and preparations for both countries’ Venice Biennale pavilions came to a halt. This week, it also became clear that the war would have a significant impact on Russia’s art scene, as two heads of the country’s museums left their posts.
The artistic director of the VAC Foundation in Moscow, Francesco Manacorda, announced on Thursday that he had resigned due to the conflict in Ukraine. “Unfortunately, current events have significantly changed working conditions and personal conditions, which is why I have come to the conclusion that I will not be able to continue working with the same dedication that I could be proud of,” Manacorda said. to the Russian press service TASS. “My decision was given to me with great difficulty and repentance.”
The VAC Foundation operates two spaces: one in Venice, the other in Moscow. The latter, GES-2, is a cultural center opened in 2020 by the foundation, chaired by Leonid Mikhelson, managing director of Novatek, Russia’s largest private gas group. Mikhelson has close ties to the Kremlin.
Prior to joining the VAC Foundation in 2017, Manacorda was Artistic Director of Tate Liverpool and co-curator of the 2016 Liverpool Biennale. the biennial’s New Zealand pavilion.
His departure is the latest change affecting GES-2, which issued a statement last Sunday saying it was closing all of its exhibits and events. In the statement, the center said it “cannot turn a blind eye to the tragic events that we have all witnessed.”
Manacorda’s resignation joins that of Vladimir Opredelenov, deputy director of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, one of Russia’s leading cultural institutions. In a statement posted on his Instagram account, Opredelenov said: “My attitude to current world events does not coincide with that of many of my colleagues from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. I hope that will change in the near future, but with things as they are, I am forced to leave my beloved museum at this time.
Opredelenov had been at the museum for 19 years, working for nearly a decade as deputy director. He was also Head of the Department of Information Technologies in the Field of Culture, Higher School of Economics of the National Research University, and Chairman of the Council for the Digital Development of Museums of the Russian Committee of the Union Museums International.
ART news sought comments from the VAC Foundation and the Pushkin Museum on the respective departures of Manacorda and Opredelenov. Both of their statements implied that their resignations were voluntary. But there have been rumors of a government order to fire museum cultural workers who spoke out against the dispute.
More than 17,000 artists and cultural workers signed an open letter denouncing the war. “Engagement with culture and the arts will be next to impossible under these conditions,” the letter read. Also included in the letter was the suggestion that some employees be expelled from institutions across Russia, allegedly for speaking out about the dispute.
News has circulated on the Russian art scene that the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow has fired all staff members who signed the letter. Artist and curator Dmitry Bulatov said on Telegram, a Russian social media site, that the museum’s management received the order directly from the Moscow City Council’s culture department. A representative for the museum did not respond to a request for comment.
Although these allegations have not been confirmed by the museum itself, Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly, described cultural figures opposed to the war as “traitors”, writing on Telegram: “If you have such principles, start by refusing state subsidies. »
In solidarity with this cascade of voluntary and forced resignations, the Moscow Fabrika Creative Industries Center launched a program for unemployed artists and curators who lost their jobs in cultural institutions due to their position on events in Ukraine. “All personalities from the contemporary art scene who, due to current events, find themselves in a difficult life situation and wish to show and discuss their works/projects on an independent platform are invited to participate,” the center wrote. .
As the dust settles, announcements of delays, cancellations and premature closures threaten to drain some Russians of all arts programming. The Moscow Kremlin museums have canceled the exhibition “Duel. From God’s judgment to a noble crime,” declaring in a statement to the art diary, “The project is based on exhibitions from European museums, which were forced to withdraw them early due to the geopolitical situation.” Christian Boltanski’s first solo exhibition in Russia was scheduled to open at the Manege Central Exhibition Hall in St. Petersburg on March 13, but that exhibition has also been cancelled. Last weekend, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow released a statement saying it would “stop working on all exhibitions until the human and political tragedy unfolding in Ukraine has ceased.” Upcoming exhibits at the museum include those by Lydia Masterkova, Anne Imhof, Helen Marten, and Saodat Ismailova. And the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow has confirmed that “Diversity United”, a controversial survey intended to show artistic dialogues between Europeans and Russians, will close prematurely.