Directors of Russia’s Top Art Museums and Fairs Are Resigning En Masse

Leaders at the Pushkin Museum, the VAC Foundation, and the Cosmoscow fair have stepped down.

An employee and a visitor at the Gallery of 19th and 20th Century European and American Art at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. (Photo by Alexander ShcherbakTASS via Getty Images)

High-profile leaders of Russian art and cultural institutions have been resigning from their jobs en masse in the wake of the country’s invasion into neighboring Ukraine. 

Most of the statements from these curators and directors suggest that the decision to leave was voluntary, but there is some evidence to suggest that many have been forced out by colleagues and bosses over their perceived lack of support for president Vladimir Putin’s war.

In a post on Instagram, longtime Pushkin Museum deputy director Vladimir Opredelenov praised the museum’s digital development and other achievements over the course of his career. He went on to add: “My attitude to current world events does not coincide with that 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 to leave my beloved museum.”

Vladimir Opredelenov, former deputy director at State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Russia.

Vladimir Opredelenov, former deputy director at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Russia.

Meanwhile, the artistic director of the VAC Foundation in Moscow, Francesco Manacorda, said he had resigned due to the conflict in Ukraine, according to ARTnews. 

“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 according to ARTnews. “My decision was given to me with much difficulty and repentance.” 

Artistic director of VAC Foundation Francesco Manacorda talks to press during the opening of GES-2 contemporary arts centre on the banks of the Moskva River in Moscow on December 3, 2021. (Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Former artistic director of the VAC Foundation Francesco Manacorda. Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images.

The VAC Foundation operates two spaces, in Venice and Moscow. The latter, called GES-2, is a cultural center opened in 2020 that is funded by Leonid Mikhelson, who has close ties to the Kremlin and is chief executive of Novatek, Russia’s largest private gas group.

Mikhelson has bankrolling exhibitions in the Western art world for more than a decade, including shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, the New Museum in New York, and London’s Tate.

Before joining the VAC Foundation in 2017, Manacorda was artistic director of Tate Liverpool, and was 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.

Manacorda did not yet respond to a request for comment.

Former Cosmoscow Art Director Simon Rees attends the 24th St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2021). (Photo by Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images)

Former Cosmoscow art director Simon Rees at the 24th St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo by Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images.

Simon Rees, artistic director of the Cosmoscow art fair, is also cutting ties with his institution. “Putin threw a stone in the pond in about October and the ripples have been moving outwards ever since,” he wrote on his Facebook page on February 25. “Europeans have experienced a dramatic hike in energy and fuel negatively impacting household income, especially difficult in the low-income populations of the former communist states. After the Fukushima disaster a number of E.U. states decommissioned nuclear power so are also reliant on gas and oil from Russia: supply could be cut absolutely when it is still winter.”

A few days later, the fair published its own Facebook statement: “Over the past week, we have all realized how fragile our world is. The events of recent days cause great shock and shock, the human and political tragedy that is happening concerns absolutely everyone.”

Rees confirmed to Artnet News that he resigned on February 24. He also noted that he was now working “in the communication trenches” on behalf of Lithuania’s Contemporary Art Center Vilnius, and was living in Vienna, where he has been relocating and housing refugees from Ukraine.

Anonymous graffiti in Vilnius quoting the words by soldiers of the Ukraine’s Snake Island, “Russian battleship, go fuck yourself.” Courtesy of CAC Vilnius.

Anonymous graffiti in Vilnius quoting the words by soldiers of the Ukraine’s Snake Island, “Russian battleship, go fuck yourself.” Courtesy of CAC Vilnius.

“Simon has highly contributed to our international communications with the global art world,” Kristna Vronskaya, a representative for Cosmoscow told Artnet News in an email. “We had rich plans together and deeply regret that he decided to leave. Culture is a unifying power and we hope that Russian culture will stay a part of the global.”

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