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12 Dec, 2008 08:10

Kandinsky awards end in uproar

Kandinsky awards end in uproar

A shattered Chairman Mao, ‘Somali pirates’ onstage, demonstrators at the entrance, a walk-out at the announcement of the main prizewinner, have all helped to ensure that an art awards ceremony held in Moscow stays in the memories of those who attended.

“Shame on the jury!” shouted the audience when the winner in the main category of the Kandinsky Prizes was announced in Moscow. The prestigious 40,000 euro award went to artist Aleksey Belyaev-Gintovt – a controversial figure, whose works divide both critics and colleagues.

Belyaev-Gintovt’s style is a blend of the monumentalism associated with Soviet times, constructivism, Russian avant-garde and American Pop Art.

His work ‘Daughter Russia’ was named the ‘Project of the Year’, which resulted in many in the audience leaving the protest.

The message of the project, which consists of 20 handmade objects, is that Russia has been weakened and needs to be adopted, protected and rebuilt. And that’s what the artist is trying to do.

The main piece of the composition is called ‘Brothers and Sisters’. It shows a big crowd of people moving herd-like in the same direction.

Who is Belyaev-Gintovt?

Many art critics are not inclined to regard his works from a purely aesthetic point of view. Instead, they see them as his political manifesto, which features ultra-right and, some say, even fascist ideas.

In a series of works called the Serbian March the artist shows a woman in traditional Russian clothes holding a Kalashnikov, an axe or a scythe, with the inscriptions reading “Glory to Russian arms”, “Absolute Motherland” and “Burn everything”.

Belyaev-Gintovt is the chairman of the Eurasian Youth Union, which says in its programme document: “Our goal is the absolute power”, “you must be a master”, “the strong strive after the strong”.

The artist is also known for his ultra-right icons, including portraits of controversial figures such as Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, American expatriate poet Ezra Pound, known for his support of Mussolini, Japanese nationalist poet and playwright Yukio Mishima.

It should be noted, though, that the works that won the prize are less overtly nationalistic than many of the artist’s works.

This, however, did not prevent Aleksey Belyaev-Gintovt from declaring “Russia, forward! We’ll build a new country! Motherland is calling!” at the award ceremony.

‘Russia will turn into Somalia in four months’

The ceremony got off to a lively and controversial start. The guests were greeted by a rally and performance at the same time, organised by socialist youths. They were holding banners “Kandinsky is ashamed”, shouting at the same time: “let flowers, stars, swastikas and crosses bloom.”

More harsh statements followed when the winner of the ‘Media Project of the Year’ was announced. The members of ‘PG’ art group went on stage wearing masks that security forces and criminals often use. They claimed they were presenting themselves as Somali pirates.    

“There are four or five months left for this country. After that Russia will turn into Somalia. We’re not joking,” they said.

The laureate for ‘Best Young Artist of the Year’, Diana Machulina, was wearing a T-shirt with photos of two soldiers who’d suffered from hazing at the hands of senior officers in the Russian army.  “One had his legs amputated, the other didn’t survive,” she explained. She dedicated this performance to fascism, which she said was invading Russia.

The world famous Gao Brothers were the special guests at the ceremony. Their performance impressed the audience. It culminated with smashing the statue of Chairman Mao, which, furthermore, had female breasts.

Kandinsky Prize: no politics, just art

The Kandinsky Prizes are the biggest independent awards in contemporary art in Russia.

They were established in 2007, but in just one year they’ve become one of the most important independent institutions in the development, support and motivation of modern Russian art.

The awards are named after one of Russia’s most famous 20th-century artists, Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944), who is credited with the first modern abstract paintings.

Despite the uproar about the prize being politicized, the organisers of the competition denounce any political engagement.

Chairman of the Kandinsky Prize Board of Trustees, Shalva Breus, said that he is “not ready to give political assessment for any artist, ever. It’s far more efficient to judge from the aesthetic point of view.”

A jury member, Ekaterina Bobrinskaya, who voted for Belyaev-Gintovt, also denies any political motivation behind the decision.

We were only guided by aesthetic criteria,“ she said. ”Three very good candidates were short listed. It turned out that all three projects were related to the study of the Soviet past, its cultural traditions and style. The jury, me included, judged that Belyaev-Gintovt was the one who presented a really new point of view on Soviet style.

Shalva Breus and Ekaterina Bobrinskaya were united in saying the Kandinsky Prize has a great future and potential for development.

We believe that our country needs such an institution. In five years we intend to achieve a stable position in the art world,” Breus said.

All the scandal and controversy about the jury’s questionable decisions made the Kandinsky Prizes of 2008 the most discussed Russian art awards ceremony in years.