Saatchi Gallery in London has called off a charity show of Ukrainian art after facing backlash online for its connection to Russian banker and art collector Igor Tsukanov and Russian consultant and art patron Marat Guelman, the Art Newspaper reported Wednesday.
The show, “The Ukrainian Way,” was set to open September 3 and include 100 Ukrainian artists. An auction of physical works and NFTs were to open in tandem, with all proceeds going to “charities supporting Ukrainian arts and culture including the Art for Victory Fund and the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund,” according to a press release. Kyiv’s M17 Contemporary Art Center (M17 CAC) was listed as a partner.
However, last week, Ukrainian artists wrote on social media that the gallery had not obtained consent for their artwork to be included in the show.
“Copyright? No, they haven’t heard about it,” Olha Sahaidak, an art critic and curator who denounced the exhibition on Facebook is quoted by the Art Newspaper. “The organisers of the exhibition […] do not pay any attention to the opinion of [Ukrainian artists]. Possession of the object does not necessarily give the right to publish and exhibit.”
Once it became clear that several “key parties” had withdrawn their support in response to concerns raised by the artists, the gallery decided to cancel the ten-day exhibition.
“Saatchi Gallery was not the organiser or curator of The Ukrainian Way nor was it involved in any direct communication with the artists or collectors,” a spokesperson for the venue told the Art Newspaper.
According to the statement, the gallery had offered its space with the intention of “promoting Ukrainian artists and generating charitable funds for the benefit of Ukraine” and its “involvement with the project was predicated on the involvement of key Ukrainian stakeholders.”
The gallery said it will work with the Ukrainian Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Ukrainian culture, to “find ways to showcase works of Ukrainian artists, raise awareness of the unacceptable situation in Ukraine and to generate funds to support Ukrainian culture.” The Ukrainian Institute has called for a boycott of cultural cooperation with organizations affiliated with Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
The Ukrainian artworks in question are in the collections of Tsukanov and Guelman, who previously worked together on the exhibition “Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism” at Saatchi Gallery. In 2013, the London-based Tsukanov Family Foundation and the gallery announced a partnership. Meanwhile Tsukanov’s wife, Natasha, had served as an advisor to Igor Sechin, the head of Russian state-oil company Rosneft and a known ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The couple are not the subjects of Western sanctions.
Guelman, a veteran of the Moscow art gallery scene, moved to Montenegro in 2014 after facing criticism from Russia’s liberal and conservative factions. In the ealry 2000s, he controversially worked as a political strategist on Kremlin-linked election campaigns in Ukraine.