Real estate developer-turned-philanthropist-turned artist Janna Bullock takes on the power elite in the Putin regime in her exhibition debut, “Allegories & Experiences,” attempting to expose them for perceived sins against the Russian people.
Staged in a gutted Beaux Arts mansion a half block from the Metropolitan Museum on the Upper East Side, the show comprises 24 found images. Each photo is accompanied by a text in English and Russian, consisting of editorials by Bullock that ostensibly serve as biographies for each person depicted. They are peppered with personal invectives and opinions such as, “I would vote for him,” regarding Mikhail Prokhorov, an independent, pro-business candidate who finished third in the Russian presidential elections this past weekend. She describes him as “Russia’s most charming billionaire bachelor.”
Around the unfinished room, a translucent veil separates the viewer from the wall where the images are hung, bearing titles such as Shrek for Alexey Kudrin, the former Minster of Finance, and Alina In Wonderland, for Alina Kabaeva, the gorgeous gymnast once rumored to be engaged to Putin, that are superimposed in block lettering over each image.
Bullock, who immigrated to the United States from St. Petersburg, was a nanny in Brooklyn before she started her real estate business in New York. In 1994, she met her husband, Aleksei Kuznetsov, who was then an executive at a Moscow bank. She went on to build the RIGroup, which was based both in Moscow and New York. In Russia, she built malls and summer homes. In the United States, she bought and renovated townhouses.
While she built her business, her husband rose in political power, eventually becoming the finance director for the Moscow region in 2000. In 2010, the the New York Times reported that the couple was accused of corruption, in connection with Bullock’s real estate business in Russia. The Times also reported that Bullock denied these claims. Bullock was divested of her company, which she valued at close to $2 billion dollars. “My assets were vandalized,” Bullock says.
“The raw space is an allegory for the situation in Russia,” she says. “There is a brutal reality there that is camouflaged with a nice exterior.”
Before this exhibition, Bullock had never before dabbled in art making, although she served on the Board of Trustees for the Guggenheim Museum. She took a leave of absence in 2010.
Bullock does not describe herself as an insider in Russian politics. She likens herself to the Russian aristocrats who lost everything during the revolution in 1917. “Russia has seen something like this a couple of times,” she said. “Everything is taken from outsiders, and given to a few insiders. That’s why the number of images (24) makes a reference to the number of frames per second in old movies.”
The content in the exhibition reads more like propaganda than fact, and it’s likewise difficult to tell whether or not Bullock has been wronged, or if she was complicit in her own downfall.
“In Russia, people are gathering on the streets in freezing weather to protest,” she says. “This exhibition is the least I can do to show that I am with them. It is my voice, my view, my position. It cannot be ordered or controlled by other people.”
Photo by Patrick Demarchelier