Installation view of Chto Delat’s film It Hasn't Happened To Us Yet. Safe Haven, 2016, at KOW, Berlin, 2017.

Russian Art Triennial Faces Backlash over Inclusion of Crimea

Since the inaugural Russian Art Triennial opened at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow on March 10, its programming featuring Crimea—the Ukrainian territory that was annexed by Russia in 2014—has sparked controversy, Sophia Kishkovsky of the Art Newspaper reports. Critics are arguing that the curators’ decision to include works that grapple with the annexation or the Crimean peninsula is a political move.

Director of the Garage Museum Anton Belov disagrees. He said, “Crimeans are excluded from Ukraine,” and they are unable to work with many Russian organizations since they don’t want to risk upsetting international trading partners. “But there are still artists in Crimea . . . and it is wrong to exclude artists from artistic life.”

In response, Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan said, “I am not inclined to condemn the curators, but the situation is such that now even the most noble initiative will almost inevitably end with you putting your foot in shit . . . and pretending that someone else is the one who smells.”

At first, chief curator Kate Fowle was opposed to the idea of addressing Crimea in the exhibition, but she realized that it is “an incendiary topic” and that the triennial should “focus on the reality of . . . the human aspect of what is happening as a result of politics.”

Among the programming scheduled that will tackle Crimea are a performance by Simferopol-based Free Dance Lab group; a discussion about Crimean artists working in Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia; and several works including Chto Delat’s Safe Haven, 2016, a film about Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is currently imprisoned in Russia for protesting the annexation.

The curators asked the sixty-eight artists who were invited to participate to engage with “the zeitgeist of the past five years” and to “[offer] insight into the diversity of social tendencies that constitute the underexplored Russian art scene.”