An Open Letter on the 2008 Kandinsky Prize
We admit it upfront: we don’t care much for the artist Alexei Belyaev (Guintovt), and we don’t care about him. His art is beyond the pale of criticism, and we have never had any illusions about his political views. By the mid-1990s, he had already drifted into the orbit of Eduard Limonov’s National Bolsheviks, and he would later join Alexander Dugin’s breakaway Eurasian Movement. You do not have to be a political scientist to recognize these people for what they are: part of a reactionary global trend toward ultra-right/ultra-left nationalism. Belyaev’s statements and artworks reflect this political identity. His work glorifies violence, imperial domination, blood, soil, and war. It does this in a consciously triumphal neo-Stalinist aesthetic, mixing crimson with gold leaf to confirm its redundant imperialist messages. Some members of the local bourgeoisie are taken with this aesthetic. Fascism thus enters the salon—a salon we would rather ignore.
We thus have no vested interest in criticizing the Kandinsky Prize. Founded on the cusp of the recent Russian art boom, this $50,000 award (with its longlist show of sixty artists) is a contemporary version of the salon, the institution that has defined art throughout the bourgeois age. Initiated by the glossy art magazine ArtKhronika, supported by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and sponsored by Deutsche Bank, the Kandinsky Prize is clearly yet another neoliberal franchise, easiest to promote with a servile, aggressively populist local contingent. Its first edition eared at least some credibility by supporting the beleaguered curator Andrei Yerofeyev and giving its top award to activist-turned-formalist Anatoly Osmolovsky. But now, as the overall socio-political situation shows signs of changing for the worse, the divided jury of the Kandinsky Prize has decided to include Belyaev in the short list of its “Artist of the Year” nomination. Belyaev, however, is a crypto-fascist. The liberal press immediately picked up this scandal. Such scandals in the salon always play into the hands of the artist, his gallery, his admirers, and the critics. Most importantly, they promote the political views of these people. We do not share the rosy liberal illusion that the free market and the circulation of capital can fully convert any kind of engaged art, that artists like Belyaev tame and defuse potentially dangerous ideologies. Instead, the market makes them fashionable among the salon’s novelty-loving clientele in a mutated, glamorous form. Continue reading