Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
Manifesta 10, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art scheduled to open in the summer of 2014 at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, has received its fair share of publicity these last several weeks: a newly appointed curator, Kasper Koenig, a celebrity-filled artist roster, including the likes of Marlene Dumas and Ilya Kabakov, and, perhaps less conspicuously, calls for a boycott of the biennial altogether.
In response to Russia’s recent anti-gay laws, Irish art curator and critic Noel Kelly posted a petition on Change.org urging that “Manifesta 2014 reconsider St. Petersburg as their next location,” in order to “send a message to the Russian government that such draconian measures will not be tolerated.” Manifesta organizers responded swiftly: “to withdraw Manifesta 10 would mean to ignore contemporary voices and emerging generations of Russia,” further insisting that the biennial must remain in St. Petersburg, on the grounds that doing so would encourage “engagement, dialogue, debate and education.” A neutral nod to Kelly’s call but unsurprising, given the country in question and the oft need to tread lightly under political circumstances.
While the discussion surrounding the petition has caught the attention of a number of international news outlets, the mainstream Russian media has offered almost no coverage on the subject. Typing “Манифеста” (Manifesta) into Channel 1‘s search bar produces zero results on the subject. Indeed, the channel is Russia’s most-watched TV news station and also considered a pro-government pseudo-propaganda platform by many experts — likely reasons for the lack of Manifesta news. Other mainstream outlets, like Rossiya K, which focuses on cultural topics, features articles announcing plans to hold Manifesta in St. Petersburg, but are devoid of any references to Kelly’s petition.
That being said, a slew of posts and articles have popped up elsewhere within the country, though largely on the margins, in blogs and cultural websites, and more often than not, in support of keeping Manifesta in Russia. The Facebook page for the Hermitage XXI Century Foundation, an initiative charged with updating the museum’s collection with contemporary art, has posted several statements in favor of holding the biennial in St. Petersburg. “Everyone who demands that Manifesta is not held in Russia, in St. Petersburg,” discusses one post, “also demands the continuation of the cultural isolation of the Eastern European countries … Manifesta will become that bridge, giving us the chance to have an expanded cultural platform that exists outside of borders and outside of politics.”
Statements like these, including a counter-petition written by Lizaveta Matveeva, are fairly innocuous. But they do beg the question of whether it will be possible (and preferable) to have a dialogue that is neutral. Further, what would an “apolitical” dialogue even entail? As recent news has shown us — Pussy Riot, Mikhail Khodorkovsky — a voice in the wrong direction could certainly put you in a very difficult spot.
In a more nuanced piece of writing relative to the others, Dmitry Vilensky of Chto Delat (“What is to be done”), a group of artists and thinkers based in Russia, derides Manifesta organizers for their neutral stance on the issue. He writes:
Instead of a declaration of solidarity with the LGBT community, with all of those who are persecuted in Russia (from migrants to the members of art collectives sitting in prison), we hear that Manifesta will not participate in any propaganda, instead it will attempt to maintain a neutral space for dialogue. There is no such thing as a neutral space for discussion in Russia today — you are either on the side of the repressive conservative ideology machine, of cheap entertainment and mind-wasting of the creative class, or you are fighting to develop a viable alternative to all of this.
Having claimed neutrality, is it the case that Manifesta organizers find themselves unintentionally complicit in Russia’s homophobic policies? Is this neutrality an early warning sign that Manifesta will not in fact be a neutral space for discussion?
Anna Matveeva, in the introduction to her interview with Koenig following a September 9th press conference, brings these issues slightly to the forefront. More specifically, she alerts the reader to Koenig’s promise that he will not censor works chosen for the show, while also noting that Manifesta’s organizers have promised to behave “properly,” as they are guests in St. Petersburg. And this point — that Manifesta, as an organization, will have to behave in a certain way — is perhaps the most telling. For it implies that it will be difficult for Koenig to bend the boundaries, that it may become impossible to present works that are controversial, which could incite the type of “discussion” Manifesta organizers purport they’d like to have.
So at the end of the day, it is fairly clear that Manifesta 10 will remain in St. Petersburg: press conferences have occurred and artists already invited to show their work. Let’s just hope, then, that once June comes, we aren’t presented with something diluted.
Editor’s note: All translations, apart from the Vilensky statement, are the author’s own.
The art world has paid attention to other artists from the same era, but we have not done the same with Sonia Gechtoff, and it is time that we did.
Wifredo Lam developed a style that dances between figuration and abstraction, but the selected compositions at Pace gallery tend to repeat.
These multimedia works debuting on Voice include a “Death Mechanism” and allow fans to collect the artist’s origin story, told specifically for the metaverse.
These four artists dig into the cultural and geologic history of the enclave of Staten Island to produce work that resonates with the core of bell hooks’s commendation to love.
As acceptance of digital art grows, there is also a need to validate quality and recognize artists who explore radical ideas and achieve creative breakthroughs.
On December 13, learn about the Sam Fox School’s graduate programs in Visual Art and Illustration & Visual Culture, as well as the university’s competitive financial aid packages.
Anthology Film Archives’ complete retrospective of the influential Canadian experimental filmmaker includes many exceptionally rare titles.
Breuer’s Bohemia is centered around the life and work of Marcel Breuer, but touches upon an entire cohort of Modernist influencers.
Located in a historic industrial manufacturing facility in Utica, New York, this sculpture-centric program is accepting applications through January 15, 2022.
A conversation with Richard Kraft about his artist book in which he created penalty flags for nearly 10,000 of Trump’s misdeeds
The guidelines are specifically meant to combat a form of online harassment known as doxing.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month.