After previous stints in Rotterdam, Ljubljana, and San Sebastian, among other places, the Manifesta biennial is coming to the Russian city of St. Petersburg this summer. Curated by Kasper Konig, the event should be one to watch: Just think, a few months ago the main worry was about the country’s caveman-style legislation regarding the LGBT community. That was before chaos in the Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing takeover of Crimea, all of which set off a media frenzy about ‘the new Cold War.’ (All I can say is that I imagine getting a Russian visa will be even more entertaining than it normally is for American visitors).
No matter–organizers insist the show will go on, with a wealth of names including Thomas Hirschhorn, Vadim Fishkin, Elena Kovylina, Timur Novikov, and drag artist Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe (responsible for the excellently defaced portrait of Gorbachev above). Joanna Warsza is curating a public program that includes pieces by Ragnar Kjartansson, Slavs and Tatars, and others. A trio of painters will be shown in the Winter Palace: Nicole Eisenman (a stand-out of the last Whitney Biennial); Marlene Dumas; and Maria Lassnig (who currently has a solo at MoMA P.S.1). Perhaps to prick Putin’s backwards stance on alternative lifestyles, Dumas is contributing portraits of the likes of Oscar Wilde and Jean Genet (“notable cultural figures,” according to the press release, “whose achievements can be celebrated above their identification as homosexual men.”)
During a recent press release, Konig (who is based in Germany) reflected on the ongoing friction between Russia and the rest of the world. “In response to the comments I have received regarding the current geopolitical circumstances, I would like to stress that obviously I am very concerned with the escalating crisis, and because of it I do believe it is and should be our goal to continue to make MANIFESTA 10 happen,” he said. “It is itself a complex entity, to prompt its artists and its viewers to assume their own strong political positions, to pose questions and raise voices. To neglect and quit, would be a sign of resignation. There is vulnerability in this situation, but also a challenge and we shall have a courage to go on, a decision backed up by many Russian colleagues. It is upon us not to be influenced by prejudices against minorities or nationalist propaganda but to reject it. It is more important than ever to continue our work with courage and conviction for the local and international publics. As someone who has worked in many and various political climates and challenges, the experience tells me to stay calm and continue to work on the complexity and contradiction, that art has to offer and on how it can engage, and oppose the simplifications of our times. I support all efforts – both in art field and at large – in that direction, and I am sure that the presence of critical contemporary art in Hermitage and in the city will contribute to pluralistic and healthy debate on for complexity, and artists’ beauty.”
Visit the Manifesta 10 site for more information on what to expect from the biennial, which runs June 28 through October 31.