Russian Oligarch Vladimir Potanin Steps Down From the Guggenheim’s Board After Two Decades

Potanin was one of a group of oligarchs who met with the Russian president at the Kremlin last week.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA DECEMBER 26, 2018: MMC Norilsk Nickel President and Board Chairman Vladimir Potanin (L) and Russian Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina talking ahead of a meeting of Russian President Vladimir President with Russian businessmen at the Moscow Kremlin. Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS (Photo by Vyacheslav ProkofyevTASS via Getty Images)

Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, has resigned from the board of the Guggenheim Museum, on which he served for two decades.

The museum issued a brief statement yesterday announcing the news. 

“Vladimir Potanin has advised the board of trustees of his decision to step down as trustee effective immediately,” it read. “The Guggenheim accepts this decision and thanks Mr. Potanin for his service to the museum and his support of exhibition, conservationm and educational programs. The Guggenheim strongly condemns the Russian invasion and unprovoked war against the government and people of Ukraine.”

The museum did not respond to questions about whether it would return any of the funds Potanin donated.

The Royal Academy in London announced yesterday the resignation of oligarch Petr Anton from its board, and that the institution would return an unspecified donation to Anton.

Guests at the Guggenheim "Art After Dark". Courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York.

Guests at the Guggenheim “Art After Dark”. Courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York.

Potanin is president of Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of high-grade nickel, and he owns about one third of the company, which had revenue of $15.6 billion in 2020. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Potanin has a net worth of $25.2 billion. His other investments include a controlling stake in Petrovax Pharm, a Russian pharmaceutical company.

Potanin has been a major benefactor to the Guggenheim. His foundation has sponsored numerous exhibitions there, including the current show on Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, according to the New York Times.

Potanin has never had sanctions imposed against him, but he, like most oligarchs who have amassed fortunes in Russia in recent years, is closely associated with Putin.

Potanin “was among a group of leading oligarchs who met with Mr. Putin in the Kremlin last week, days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He has not commented on Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” the Times said.

Potanin joined the Guggenheim board in 2002 and his foundation supported the four-month exhibition “Russia!” in 2005. It was billed at the time as the most comprehensive and significant show of Russian art outside of the country since the end of the Cold War. Putin spoke in New York at the opening of the show. 

Potanin has also been a major donor to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., to which he gave $5 million in 2011, according to the Washington Post. The funds were used to remodel a lounge with Russian materials and is now known as the Russian Lounge. At a related event announcing the donation, Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein called Potanin a “friend of mine” and “somebody that I’ve known for a number of years and have good relationships with.” The Kennedy Center did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the current state of its relationship with Potanin.

The Post also noted that Potanin was inducted into France’s Legion of Honor after he donated art to the Pompidou Center in Paris. 

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