International News Digest

“SOTS ART” CURATOR FIRED IN MOSCOW

While Russian billionaires are being feted as the new heroes of the contemporary art market, the situation for the Russian artgoing public tells a less celebratory story. As the Berliner Zeitung’s Christian Esch reports, the State Tretyakov Gallery has just fired Andrei Yerofeyev, the museum’s curator for contemporary art.

“The exhibition ‘Sots Art’—about political art since 1972—at the Tretyakov Gallery was condemned six months ago by then minister of culture Alexander Sokolov as a ‘disgrace for Russia,’” writes Esch. “The verdict concerned ironic, obscene, or provocative works—including the photograph of two kissing soldiers by the Blue Noses—and prevented the exhibition from traveling to Paris.” The exhibition was allowed to leave the country only after a diplomatic intervention by French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

After Yerofeyev was relieved of his duties at the gallery, eight coworkers in the contemporary art department handed in their resignations. “The dismissal is yet another defeat in the struggle lead by defenders of artistic freedom against the patriotic-Orthodox powers and the church,” writes Esch. According to the head of the state gallery, Valentin Rodionov, Yerofeyev was fired for a breach of his work contract.

Yet Esch suggests that the reason is Yerofeyev's upcoming court case, which stems from the 2007 exhibition “Forbidden Art—2006,” which was held at the private Sacharov Center and featured works censored by curators who had feared the wrath of the church and nationalists. For showing a year’s worth of self-censored works, Yerofeyev was charged with spreading hatred and degrading human dignity.

“The case is due to begin in two to three weeks,” writes Esch, noting that Yerofeyev's boss, Rodionov, is linked to the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Besides, the timing [for the case] is good, since the new minister of culture, [Alexander] Avdeyev, has not yet taken up office.” Yerofeyev could face a trial without the possibility of grace.

ORHAN PAMUK CANCELS “MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE”

The Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk has canceled an exhibition of his “Museum of Innocence” at Frankfurt’s Kunsthalle Schirn. As the Frankfurter Rundschau’s Claus-Jürgen Göpfert reports, the exhibition was due to open on October 14, just in time for the city’s renowned international book fair, where Turkey is this year’s special guest. The “Museum of Innocence” is not only a collection of everyday objects and curiosities that Pamuk has amassed over the years; it’s also the title of the Turkish writer’s latest novel, which places the collection at the center of a love story that takes place in Istanbul in the 1970s and ’80s. At the Schirn exhibition, the novel was to function as the exhibition catalogue; Pamuk will still read excerpts from the book at the fair. As for the “Museum of Innocence,” the writer has secured a building in his native Istanbul, where the museum will open either next year or the year after.

ART IN AMERICAN SCHOOLS

Another collection is coming to schools across the United States. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Willi Winkler reports, the National Endowment for the Humanities has initiated a program to outfit schools with reproductions of forty American artworks. So far, over twenty-six thousand schools have signed up to take part in the program, which was initially proposed by the writer John Updike. When students hit the books once again this fall, they can look forward to a few American masterpieces on the walls around them.

What forty works make up this pedagogical museum of reproductions? As Winkler reports, many are presented in pairs, such as Albert Bierstadt’s view of Yosemite Valley from 1865 and Black Hawk’s drawing of an Indian from the beginning of the nineteenth century. “The selection is ruled more by a need for compromise than by a sense for art,” writes Winkler. “Winslow Homer and a bit of pre-Columbian art, an everyday scene from Norman Rockwell, and Dorothea Lange’s photograph of immigrants. . . . George Washington crosses the Delaware, Lincoln looks brave, and for African Americans, there’s [Martin Puryear’s] homage to Booker T. Washington.”

However patriotic, the school collection does not include works by such postwar luminaries as Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. Needless to say, there is a dearth of contemporary artists; the youngest, and only living one in the bunch, is Puryear (born 1941)—no John Currins here. But perhaps the collection will inspire a new set of contemporary responses.

MORE LISTS AND RANKINGS

Both Art News and Monopol have published their latest lists, just in time for summer reading. Art News ranks the world’s top two hundred collectors after surveying collectors, dealers, auctioneers, and curators from twenty-two countries. According to Art News, the top ten collectors are Debra and Leon Black, Edythe and Eli Broad, Steve Cohen, Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis, Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder, François Pinault, Viktor Pinchuk, Mitchell Rales, Carlos Slim Helu, and Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed bin Ali al-Thani. For its part, Monopol offers a list of the top one hundred influential artists, dealers, collectors, and curators, both past and present. Its top ten are Andy Warhol, Harald Szeemann, Bruce Nauman, Samuel Keller, Peggy Guggenheim, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, Jackson Pollock, Louise Bourgeois, and Charles Saatchi.

Observing the mania for lists and rankings in the summer months and at each year’s end, the Süddeutsche Zeitung wonders whether there is any link between them. This month also saw a spate of publications ranking, for example, the top fifty zoos and their polar bears, the fifty most effective antidepressants, and the fifty most important highway service areas in Germany. “We are a population of comparativists and list readers," writes the paper, which wonders whether the quality might be slightly improved and the criteria more clearly explained. After all, how can Eli Broad be number two in Art News’s ranking but sit at number ninety in Monopol’s view? Pinault may be number six in Art News’s eyes, but he's at forty-seven in Monopol’s assessment. Perhaps the real question is whether there is any link between the top collectors (Debra and Leon Black), the most influential artist (Andy Warhol), and Knut, the best polar bear at the Berlin Zoo.

Jennifer Allen