Sanctions and politics leave works of art and the Russian art world in limbo

Sanctions and politics leave works of art and the Russian art world in limbo

International sanctions against Russia, the devaluation of the ruble, and politics at the governmental and individual level have left works of art stranded and causing museums to frantically revise exhibition schedules that were established years ago.

The Morozov Collection of late 19th and early 20th century European and Russian art, so valuable it could not be sent abroad without President Putin’s signature, is still on display at the Louis Vitton Foundation in Paris. The show, which debuted in October 2021, proved extremely popular and has been extended until April 3, 2022.

The Mikhail and Ivan Morozov collection includes 200 masterpieces of French (Manet, Rodin, Renoir, Pisarro, Monet, Gauguin, Cézanne) and Russian (Repin, Korovin, Golovin, Serov, Malevich, Larionov, Goncharova) art. the Hermitage, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the State Tretyakov Gallery. The entire Morozov collection was due to open at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in June 2022 after his return, but no one now knows when it might arrive.

There doesn’t seem to be any fear that the collection won’t come back; all contracts and guarantees had been signed at the highest level of the State. The problem is the suspension of flights to and from Russia. As reported in the New York Times, Jean-Paul Claverie, special adviser to the president of the Louis Vitton Foundation, declared that the works could be stored at the Russian embassy or in the secure warehouse of the foundation. The safety of the paintings is the priority, he said, and they will remain in France until a safe way to bring them back is found.

The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg has also decided to put the safety of its works of art first. Acting on orders from the government, the museum first informed Italian museums that they had to return the works on loan from the Hermitage by March 31. But when museum staff realized the extent of the problems, they canceled their order and said the art should be returned when safe and feasible.

Museums and exhibition spaces in Russia face the same kinds of problems, but in reverse: their exhibitions are not extended, but rather cancelled. One of the highlights of the 2022 season was to be the debut performance of the late French artist Christian Boltanski at the Manege exhibition space in St. Petersburg. Supported by the French Institute of Russia, this exhibition called “Spirits” would be a kind of mythical space where the workers killed during Bloody Sunday in 1905 awaited their trajectories from beyond to paradise or hell. The exhibits had been hand-picked by Boltanski for this exhibition and represented the last 10 to 15 years of his work, some of them specially curated for this event.

At present, the family and the artist’s team have taken the decision to cancel the exhibition, although all the works have arrived safely in St. Petersburg and are currently in the Manezh. Manège staff are working with Boltanski’s team to find a way to safely transport these works of art to France.

Le Manège hopes to be able to return to this project in the future, as well as to other collaborative projects with its colleagues abroad. An independent consultant for a number of cultural organizations in Russia told the Moscow Times that virtually all international collaborations are frozen and there is no funding for projects with foreign organizations, although everyone hopes that the situation is temporary.

In the meantime, Russian museums and exhibition spaces are scrambling to find alternative projects. Now that the Boltanski exhibition is over, the Salle du Manège is trying to organize another exhibition. They promise to announce their revised Spring 2022 schedule in the near future.

The State Tretyakov Gallery has canceled its retrospective of Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela which was scheduled to run from April to August 2022 and removed him from his list future exhibitions.

However, these are all palliative measures. Russian and international museums have always based their work on collaborative projects, art loans, joint visits and exhibitions, not to mention scholarly and scientific collaboration. No one knows how the art world will exist without it.