July 28, 2021

How Russia wants to seize the Golden Lion in Venice

It blows a new wind on Russian contemporary art. The conservative caciques are thanked for the benefit of foreign experts financed by businessmen, but also by young women close to the political elite. The most recent example is that of the Russian pavilion in Venice.

The Deputy Minister of Culture, Alla Manilova, announced a few weeks ago the surprise departure of the pavilion’s commissioner general, Semyon Mikhaïlovsky, appointed in 2016 and whose contract ran until 2020. Rector of the pavilion Repin Academy of Painting, Mikhaïlovsky had already assembled his team for the preparation of the next biennial of contemporary art in Venice.

In its place, the Ministry of Culture appointed Teresa Iarocci Mavica, managing director of the VAC Fund of Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson. Italian and Sovietologist by training, Teresa Iarocci Mavica has lived in Russia for thirty years, and has become one of the most influential experts in contemporary art. She was able to arouse the interest of the richest businessman in the country (24 billion dollars according to the magazine Forbes) for the current creation. VAC will open next year a large contemporary art center near the Kremlin (see JdA November 25, 2019).

Teresa Iarocci Mavica, the new general curator of the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

© DR

Provincialism of political power

Revealed by the daily Knowledge, the new team aims for nothing less than to win the Golden Lion in 2021 from the national pavilion. Teresa Iarocci Mavica clarified at Arts Journal to be “Convinced that the real challenge is not the Golden Lion, but the fact that the Biennale curator comes from Russia. This would mean that Russia’s cultural agenda is aligned with that of other countries. Russia will take an active part in the contemporary cultural debate and that is what should be the goal. “

The observation that the country’s integration at the international level is hampered by the provincialism of political power is widely shared within the contemporary Russian scene. The words of Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky at the inauguration of the 55th Venice Biennale (“We are more supporters of traditionalism”), remain engraved in the memories and the ministry wants to influence the artistic choices, through the nominations, without giving money. Russia has never won the Golden Lion and has even been beaten by two of its former satellites: Armenia (in 2015) and Lithuania (in 2019).

To win the Golden Lion, the Mavica / Mikhelson duo enlisted the services of Smart Art, a consulting firm specializing in Russian contemporary art. Created three years ago, Smart Art is also a duo, formed by two young women, Ekaterina Vinokurova and Anastasia Karneeva, both former heads of Christie’s in Russia. The company advises dozens of collectors and supports several young Russian artists, through the exhibitions it produces. Important detail: the two young women come from the Russian elite. Ekaterina Vinokurova is the daughter of the famous Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the wife of a powerful banker. Anastasia Karneeva is the daughter of a general of the secret services, now vice-president of Rostec, the state giant of armaments and high technologies. A conglomerate that has recently helped contemporary art events.

The association of the two pairs will run the next two Venetian events at the same time: the 17th Architecture Biennale 2020 and the 59th Contemporary Art Biennial in 2021. In the immediate future, Smart Art has launched a call for projects, open to all architects under the age of forty for the restoration of the Russian pavilion in Venice, designed in 1914 by the Russian Alexeï Chtchoussev. Smart Art says it was awarded the pavilion management contract in the spring (for a ten-year lease), following a competition organized by the Russian presidential administration, owner of the walls.

Catering with private funds

The rapprochement with Leonid Mikhelson was logical because Ekaterina Vinokurova and Anastasia Karneeva say they know him ” since a long time “ and add: “We contacted Mr. Mikhelson for professional advice, given his extensive experience dealing with the Venetian authorities regarding the restoration of Palazzo delle Zattere [pour lequel V-A-C possède un bail à long terme]. » The billionaire has in return “Kindly offered to help. At least at the beginning, we don’t need to look for additional funds ”. Smart Art estimates the cost of restoring the national pavilion at 600,000 euros.

Even if the Kremlin plugs its nose in contemporary art, it would not scorn an international triumph, provided it is financed with private money. And since Russia is banned from the Olympic Games for four years for state doping, why not seek prestige in the arts? Unlike sport, the less the Russian state is involved, the better the results.

At MO.CO, Nicolas Bourriaud heals a Russian wound

Exposure. Sulphurous one day, always sulphurous. One hundred and thirty non-conformist works of art, a reflection of a Russia rebellious to authority, are exhibited until February 9 at the Moco (Montpellier Contemporain). “This exhibition is an idea of ​​the director of MO.CO, Nicolas Bourriaud. We could not organize it today in a Russian state museum ”, confides, to Arts Journal, the curator of the exhibition Andreï Erofeev. He knows something about it. The works shown at MO.CO are part of a collection of 5,000 pieces that he himself assembled between 1983 and 2008 to form the basis of a hypothetical museum of contemporary Russian art. Finding refuge in 2001 at the Tretyakov Gallery, where Andrei Erofeev then worked, the collection aroused growing irritation from the authorities each time it was exhibited. Andreï Erofeev was finally fired in 2008 from the Tretiakov Gallery. What is so disturbing about the works of Blue Noses, Boris Orlov, Gosha Ostretsov and Leonid Sokov? “The absurd, the parody side. The artist’s laughter, a liberating laugh in relation to Soviet ideology or the new current ideology, but also in relation to all kinds of authority ”, answers Andrei Erofeev. He is now reconciled with the Tretyakov Gallery, which even co-organizes the exhibition, because the old team has left. It remains to mend the museum directors with the nonconformist troublemakers.