– Spring 2011

Art after Primitive Accumulation: Or, on the Putin-Medvedev Cultural Politics

Keti Chukhrov

Agatoak Ronny Kowspi, Untitled, 2007, acrylic on sago bark, height 110cm, diameter 43cm. Both images from ‘Against Inclusion', Third Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art, 2009. Courtesy the artists

Agatoak Ronny Kowspi, Untitled, 2007, acrylic on sago bark, height 110cm, diameter 43cm. Both images from ‘Against Inclusion', Third Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art, 2009. Courtesy the artists

Genealogy of Contemporary Art's Statism

The lack of cultural and art institutions was an urgent matter of debate and concern in Russian artistic circles throughout the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. But it wasn't until 2005 - in connection with the First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art - that a sudden shift took place.1 State institutions, such as the Ministry of Culture and Rosiso (State Centre of Exhibiting Programmes), left behind their traditional indifference to contemporary art and decided to make the biennial the emblem of 'New Russian' progressive cultural politics. This coincided with the emergence of new galleries like Stella Art Foundation and Triumph Gallery in Moscow, whose founders emerged from the new upper classes.2

From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, the relationship between progressive intellectual and art initiatives, on the one hand, and business and state, on the other, was effectively non-existent. Various artistic events and educational and publishing endeavours were self-organised, and either lacked any external funding or received occasional support from foreign foundations (the Soros Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation). Perhaps because of this, artistic and intellectual spheres of production operated with relative independence, and, although lacking organisational capacity, were motivated by optimism and enthusiasm: these Moscow and St Petersburg self-organised groups included Logos publishers (founded in 1991) and Ad Marginem publishers (founded in 1993), specialising in philosophy and cultural theory; Visual Anthropology, a two-year laboratory of philosophers and artists launched by Viktor Misiano at the Philosophy Institute; TV gallery; Moscow Art Magazine (founded in 1993); groups founded by Anatoly Osmolovsky, such as the Radek art journal (1994-99), Radek

  1. The First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, curated by Joseph Backstein, Daniel Birnbaum, Iara Boubnova, Nicolas Bourriaud, Fulya Erdemci, Gunnar B. Kvaran, Rosa Martínez and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, took place in various locations across the city from 28 January to 28 February 2005.

  2. Stella Art Foundation was established by Stella Kesoeva in 2004, and Triumph Gallery by Emelian Zakharov in 2005.

  3. 'Black' was commonly used to refer to illegitimate income that was not stated or taxed, and 'grey' to 'laundered' money.

  4. In addition to those mentioned in the text, examples include Art4.ru, an exhibition space founded by refrigerator and window blinds magnate Igor Markin in the centre of Moscow; the Ekaterina Cultural Foundation; the City Art Foundation; the Winzavod Art Centre; the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture; the National Center of Contemporary Art, the new modern art museum planned by the Ministry of Culture; three more premises of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art; Fabrika Art Centre, which works with younger artists; as well as several new commercial galleries.

  5. Tanatos Banionis is the pseudonym of one of the owners of the Moscow-based Triumph Gallery, Alexander Dolgin; he is a businessman who sponsored a journal and a publishing house, and then began appearing in the media as a philosopher and expert on culture. Sergey Minaev, who owns a beverage business, is now conspicuous as a writer and member of the public chamber in State Duma. Julia Millner, wife of the oligarch Juri Millner, exhibited work in the Russian Pavilion in the 2007 Venice Biennale.

  6. Quoted in Art Without Justifications (exh. cat.), Moscow: Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, 2004, p.58.

  7. See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995; and G. Agamben, State of Exception (trans. Kevin Attell), Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

  8. See Dmitry Medvedev, 'Go Russia', September, 2009. First appeared at http://www.kremlin.ru/news/5413. Also available at http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/text/speeches/2009/09/10/1534_qtype104017_221527.shtml (last accessed on 22 November 2010).

  9. See Jean-Hubert Martin, 'Against Exclusion', in J.-H. Martin (ed.) Third Moscow Biennale (exh. cat.), Moscow: Artchronika, Moscow Biennale Art Foundation, 2009, p. 27.

  10. Vladislav Surkov, 'Preface', in J.-H. Martin (ed.), Third Moscow Biennale (exh. cat.), op. cit., p.19.

  11. See Really? (exh. cat.), Moscow: Artplay Center of Design, 2009.