Amid the escalating crisis in Ukraine and international sanctions targeting prominent Russian oligarchs following their country’s invasion of Ukraine, two Russian magnates with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle have stepped down from trustee positions on museum boards in New York and London.
Vladimir Potanin, one of the wealthiest men in Russia and a decades-long donor to the the Guggenheim Museum, stepped down from his position at the New York institution on Wednesday. Known as a close ally of Putin, Potanin amassed his wealth via the mining company Norilsk Nickel. He had served on the Guggenheim’s board since 2002.
“The Guggenheim accepts this decision and thanks Mr. Potanin for his service to the museum and his support of exhibition, conservation and educational programs,” a spokesperson for the Guggenheim said a statement to ARTnews. “The Guggenheim strongly condemns the Russian invasion and unprovoked war against the government and people of Ukraine.”
Potnanin’s eponymous foundation has funded numerous exhibitions at the Guggenheim, including its current showcase in New York dedicated to the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. He also endowed a conservation fellowship in his name at the museum in 2019. Potnanin has also previously been a donor to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Earlier in the week, Petr Aven, another Russian businessman, resigned from his position as a trustee of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where he had served since 2014. Aven, who runs Alfa-Bank, one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, was named among individuals sanctioned by the European Union this week. The museum said it would return his donation funding its current exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.” He previously gave funds to support the institution’s 2017 exhibition, “Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932.” The Royal Academy did not immediately respond to ARTnews’s request for comment.
Amid the conflict, which has already claimed civilian casualties and damaged museums and memorials across the country, several cultural institutions around the world have come under scrutiny for their links to Russian oligarchs with close ties to Putin. The Tate in London is being eyed for accepting two major donations from a close Putin ally, Viktor Vekselberg, made within the last decade. The billionaire owner of the Renova Group, an oil and energy conglomerate has a track record of backing Russian art through his nonprofit, the Link of Times foundation. He was sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2018.