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Kandinsky Is Ashamed: Vpered and Chto Delat Picket the Kandinsky Prize

To receive the award, the three young men that comprise [the PG Group] came on stage wearing ski masks, announcing themselves to be the Moscow representatives of Somali pirates.“The future belongs to people in masks,” one member of the group said, to a stunned audience. “Your fat-cat lifestyle will soon end and then you’ll all be hung up high.” “We’re not joking,” he added. Silence descended on the room, followed by meek applause.

John Varoli, “Jeers, Cheers Greet Kandinsky Winner, Painter Beliayev-Guintovt” 

Kirill Medvedev
“Art Is Beyond Politics, Fascism Is Beyond Criticism”: A Picket by the Vpered Socialist Movement and Chto Delat on the “Territory of Art”

On December 10, independent critics, artists, and activists joined members of the Vpered (Forward!) Socialist Movement and the Chto Delat Work Group in a picket at the Winzavod Contemporary Art Center. The reason for the protest was the fascization of contemporary art and the art business, as exemplified by the nomination for and awarding of the Kandinsky Prize to Alexei Belyaev-Guintovt, the so-called stylist of the Eurasian Youth League.

kandinsky_4As members of the beau monde and the art establishment exited their cars and entered the auditorium where the awards ceremony took place, they observed with a mixture of unease, squeamishness, and curiosity a group of twenty some leftist internationalists who were holding up a banner, handing out leaflets along with the new issue of Chto Delat newspaper (When Artists Struggle Together), and shouting such slogans as “Art Is Beyond Politics, Fascism Is Beyond Criticism!” “Kandinsky Is Ashamed!” and “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom: Money, Swastikas, Crosses!” The “hosts” and guests of the awards ceremony nervously poked their heads out from the auditorium, people took snapshots, and a news crew from Channel One taped an improvised report of the action that is, however, unlikely ever to make it on the air.

Event organizers displayed tactical good sense: they decided that breaking up the picket would harm their business reputations, and this allowed the picketers to hand out as many newspapers and leaflets as possible.

Two VIP guests of the ceremony—thugs from the Eurasian Youth League—were drawn to the picketers’ banner, which featured the Eurasian Movement’s arrow-crosses, stylized swastikas, and the slogan “Kandinsky Is Ashamed.” After unsuccessfully attempting to seize the banner, the “Eurasians” entered into a political discussion with the picketers. They demanded to know how Belyaev-Guintovt and his fellow Duginites were fascists.

A reading of direct quotations from Eurasian Youth League manifestos and the published works of Alexander Dugin* made no impression on them, of course, and so the “Eurasians” renewed their battle to seize the banner. A long and fairly ridiculous scrum ensued. From time to time, the Eurasian warriors would scream things like, “He hit me!” and “He’s twisting my arm!” to the security guards. In the end, the rumpled Eurasians seized the banner and retreated into the auditorium, where they joined other honored guests in celebrating what turned out to be a brilliant victory for the Eurasian “stylist.” Meanwhile, the leftist activists continued their picket. They then quit the grounds of Winzavod. They left right on time: at the art center’s gates they ran into squads of policemen racing to the scene. Continue reading

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An Open Letter on the 2008 Kandinsky Prize

An Open Letter on the 2008 Kandinsky Prize

121170281We 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

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