Art Inquisition: Whose Art Is It, Anyway?
Kiev is celebrating the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus, the medieval kingdom that laid the Orthodox foundation for modern-day Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. One of its museums, the Mystetskyi Arsenal, had collected the works of 1,000 artists from 35 different museums in a pan-Ukrainian Arts Project called Great and Grand. The general director of the museum, Natalia Zabolotna, had commissioned artist Volodymyr Kuznetsov to paint a mural as a part of this exhibition.
“Koliivschina: Judgment Day” displayed a nuclear reactor with priests, judges and a car that appeared to be carrying officials being dumped into a huge red tub. Among a watching crowd of people was one figure that appeared to be Iryna Krashkova, a woman who accused two police officers and a civilian of beating and raping her last month, prompting a series of protests.
The day before the exhibit was to open, Zabolotna doused the mural in black paint and would not allow the artist into the museum.
She has since apologized for the act, but maintains that Kuznetsov deviated from the agreed-upon concept. “You cannot criticize the homeland, just as you cannot criticize your mother. I feel that anything said against the homeland is immoral.” Another work was supposedly removed from the exhibit before it opened as well.
The defacement of the mural sparked a protest against censorship and the mixing of church and state. Eight people were arrested outside the museum on the day of the opening, and the deputy director of the museum has resigned. The Kiev-based Art Workers’ Self-Defense Initiative is calling for a boycott of the Mystetskyi Arsenal and affiliated organizations.
What might be called a similar situation occurred (sans arrests) in 2010 when Italian muralist Blu painted a commissioned mural on the outside of the Geffen Contemporary building for L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary art as a part of a street art exhibition. MOCA’s then-director, Jeffrey Dietch, ordered the mural whitewashed, declaring it “insensitive” to the surrounding neighborhood. The act was deemed censorship by the artist and others, and compared to the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” video from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
What do you think? Who owns commissioned art? And who owns the art in museums? Are there expectations about how you’re “supposed” to handle art? What are the expectations between an artist and an art-buyer? What should be done when there is disagreement over the message of a piece of art, and how (or why) is that any different than disagreeing with a spoken or written message?
The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. It used to appear on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET… maybe we’ll just try for Wednesdays this go ’round. Make with the comments!