Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Putin-affiliated trustees at international museums have resigned, blockbuster exhibitions have been suspended, and preparation for both countries’ Venice Biennale pavilions has ground to a halt. This week, it also became clear that the war would have significant impact on the Russian art scene as two museum leaders in the country left their posts.
The artistic director of the V-A-C Foundation in Moscow, Francesco Manacorda, said on Thursday that he had resigned due to the conflict in Ukraine. “Unfortunately, current events have significantly changed labor and personal conditions, which is why I came to the conclusion that I will not be able to continue working with the same dedication that I could be proud of,” Manacorda told Russia’s TASS press service. “My decision was given to me with much difficulty and repentance.”
The V-A-C Foundation operates two spaces: one in Venice, the other in Moscow. The latter, GES-2, is a cultural center opened in 2020 by the foundation, which is presided by Leonid Mikhelson, chief executive of Novatek, Russia’s largest private gas group. Mikhelson has close ties to the Kremlin.
Before joining the V-A-C Foundation in 2017, Manacorda was artistic director of the Tate Liverpool, and had been a co-curator of the 2016 Liverpool Biennial. In 2007, he curated the Slovenian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and in 2009, he oversaw the biennial’s New Zealand Pavilion.
His departure is the latest shift affecting GES-2, which issued a statement last Sunday saying that it was shutting down all of its exhibitions and events. In that statement, the center said it “cannot turn a blind eye to the tragic events we have all become witnesses to.”
Manacorda’s resignation joins that of Vladimir Opredelenov, deputy director of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, one of the preeminent cultural institutions in Russia. In a statement published on his Instagram account, Opredelenov said, “My attitude to current world events does not coincide with that of many of my colleagues from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. I hope this will change in the near future, but with things as they are, I am forced at this time to leave my beloved Museum.”
Opredelenov had been at the museum for 19 years, working for nearly a decade as deputy director. He also served as head of the Department of Information Technologies in the Sphere of Culture, Higher School of Economics of the National Research University, and as president of the Council for the Digital Development of Museums of the Russian Committee of the International Union of Museums.
ARTnews has reached out for comment from the V-A-C Foundation and the Pushkin Museum on Manacorda and Opredelenov’s respective departures. Both of their statements suggested that their resignations were voluntary. But there have been rumors of a governmental order to fire cultural workers from museums who spoke out about the conflict.
More than 17,000 artists and culture workers have signed an open letter decrying the war. “Engagement with culture and the arts will be almost impossible in these conditions,” the letter reads. Also in that letter was the suggestion that some employees are being ejected from institutions across Russia, allegedly for speaking out against the conflict.
Word has been circulating throughout the Russian art scene that the Moscow Museum of Modern Art has fired any staffers who signed the letter. Artist and curator Dimitri Bulatov said on Telegram, a Russian social media site, that the management of the museum received the order directly from the Department of Culture of the Moscow City Council. A representative for the museum did not respond to a request for comment.
Although these allegations have not been confirmed by the museum itself, Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly, described cultural figures opposing the war as “betrayers,” writing on Telegram, “If you are so principled, start by refusing state grants.”
In solidarity with this cascade of voluntary and forced resignations, the Moscow Center for Creative Industries Fabrika has launched a program for unemployed artists and curators who have lost their jobs in cultural institutions due to their position on the events in Ukraine. “All figures from the contemporary art scene who, due to current events, find themselves in a difficult life situation and want to show and discuss their works/projects on an independent platform are invited to participate,” the center wrote.
As the dust settles, announcements of delays, cancelations, and premature closures threaten to drain some Russian of any arts programming.The Moscow Kremlin Museums has canceled the exhibition “Duel. From God’s Judgment to a Noble Crime,” saying in a statement to the Art Newspaper, “The project is based on exhibitions from European museums, which were forced to withdraw them early due to the geopolitical situation.” The first Christian Boltanski solo exhibition in Russia was planned to open at Manege Central Exhibition Hall in St. Petersburg on March 13, but that show, too, has been canceled. This past weekend, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow released a statement saying that it would “stop work on all exhibitions until the human and political tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine has ceased.” Among the upcoming exhibitions at the museum are ones by Lydia Masterkova, Anne Imhof, Helen Marten, and Saodat Ismailova. And the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow confirmed that “Diversity United,” a controversial survey meant to show artistic dialogues between Europeans and Russians, will close prematurely.