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Monday, October 23, 2006

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Union

A British art dealer was arrested at the Moscow airport on Friday when he tried to leave the country carrying paintings with critical, satirical images of Russian "president" Vladmir Putin. How Neo-Soviet can you get? EnglishRussia says that the above is one of the images found potentially criminal. The Scotsman reports:

A BRITISH art expert was seized at a Moscow airport when border guards found satirical cartoons in his luggage depicting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, naked. Matthew Bown, owner of the Matthew Bown Art Gallery in London's Saville Row, was last night being held at the Sheremetyevo-2 airport. According to initial reports, guards spotted art works which he had bought at the Moscow Marat Gelman gallery the day before. The pictures included cartoons depicting Mr Putin, the president of the United States George Bush, the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and a female suicide bomber. Mr Bown was prevented from getting on his flight while an inquiry assessed whether the images constitute "anti-government agitation". It was not clear whether he was actually under arrest.

Art Daily provides more detail:

At 11 am on 20th October 2006, in Moscow, Matthew Bown, owner of the London-based Matthew Bown Gallery, was removed from flight SU 241 bound for London and detained by Russian authorities for questioning. Bown was held in connection with his attempt to export artworks by the Russian art collective Blue Noses. The artworks in question include photographic images depicting presidents Putin and Bush cavorting with Osama Bin Laden, and of a suicide bomber in a burqa flashing her (or his?) underwear. The works in question are intended for exhibition at the Matthew Bown gallery from 9th November 2006. After his removal from the flight, Bown was questioned by police over a period of approximately nine hours. He eventually flew out of Moscow at 20.45 on SU 247. The eleven works by Blue Noses he was transporting were not allowed to leave the country and are currently held by the Moscow police at Sheremetevo II airport. A selection of the confiscated works is shown on this page: click image to enlarge. When Matthew Bown asked the reason for his interrogation and the confiscation of the artworks, he was told by a police officer that the Blue Noses' works "contain representations of heads of state and this could not pass unnoticed." This was a reference to the four works entitled Mask Show depicting Bush, Putin and Bin Laden. The officers were also concerned about the possibly inflammatory nature of an image of a suicide bomber entitled The Girl Has A Date. Matthew Bown pointed out to the interrogating officers the limited effectiveness of confiscating photographic prints when the digital originals could be copied around the world at will. The point was taken by the interrogating officers, but higher authorities would not permit release of the photographs. At present it seems that these works by the Blue Noses will not be allowed out of Russia. The detention and confiscation have attracted attention in the Russian media. Radio station Ekho Moskvy broadcast a phone conversation with Matthew Bown. Leading gallery owner and political activist Marat Gelman has commented on the incident to (Russian language). Blue Noses are known for their satirical and provocative videos, photographs and performances which parody and critique Russia's past and its present day capitalist boom. Their targets include political leaders, sexual and political correctness, and the platitudes of art history. Using low-tech methods they ape the look of high-tec. Blue Noses' intentions have always been to create work that can be understood and engaged with outside the restrictive realm of contemporary art; a populist approach for 'pioneers and pensioners'. Their energy, black humour, irreverence and sense of the grotesque distill the spirit of Russian art (and life) today.

Immediately following the arrest of Bown, the Gelman gallery in Moscow was attacked by vandals. Radio New Zealand reports:

A group of young men has ransacked one of Moscow's best-known modern art galleries, ripping paintings from walls and damaging equipment. The attack was launched on the Marat Gelman gallery a day after photograph montages it had displayed caricaturing the Russian and US presidents were seized by Russian customs at a Moscow airport. The gallery manager says a group of tough-looking men in black jackets smashed paintings and office equipment in the gallery and took staff cell phones. A British gallery owner, Matthew Cullern Bown, believes they were unhappy about the satirical representation of Presidents Putin and Bush in semi-naked poses along with Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "A group of tough-looking young men in black jackets and hats came into the gallery. They clearly knew the layout," gallery manager Sergei Serebrennikov said. "They split up into groups and set about smashing all paintings on the wall, attacked our offices, smashed equipment and telephones and took mobile phones away from our staff." Paintings were trampled on the floor of the gallery, one of Moscow's best known in operation since the early 1990s, and papers, books and office supplies were strewn about. The assailants ran off. None of the staff was hurt. The gallery's owners closed their doors for two weeks. Interfax news agency quoted officials at the Moscow prosecutor's office as saying that a criminal case had been launched into the incident.

In other news, David McDuff reports on how Russian writers are still rejecting Russia, just as if the cold war were still raging (which, in fact, it is).

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