In Russia this week, a fourteen month trial ended with the conviction of the curators of the "Forbidden Art" exhibit at the Andrei Sakahrov Museum. The charge against them, for which they were fined but not imprisoned, was "inciting religious hatred." In 2007, Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev gathered some twenty iconoclastic works that had been banned from other exhibitions over the previous year. The show was cleverly conceived, with a curtain hiding the works from viewers save for strategically placed peepholes.
The trial was chaotic, with demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. Admitted as evidence was an account of a woman's suicide, allegedly brought on by the distress she felt after seeing sacred images profaned. Various human rights organizations monitored the proceedings, and there were many worried blogs and editorials lamenting the new era of state censorship brought on since 1998, when former Soviet intelligence officers took control of the government.
More cynical commentators have observed that the works themselves are no more than a rehash of the Pop Art era, notable only for their notoriety. "Avant garde art needs the oxygen of scandal.” The religious right reliably, and unwittingly, played its part.
Two thoughts come to mind. First is the famous Nazi exhibit of "Degenerate Art" which was intended to ridicule the works of abstract and Jewish artists, but in fact augmented their fame.
The second is the curious criminal charge: "inciting religious hatred." Perhaps a translator could clarify for us whether this means hatred of, or hatred by, religious insitutions. Considering America's own experience with the vitriol of the over-faithful, and their dim view of freedom, I suspect it is the latter.
Jesus images by Alexander Kosolapov. These were actually part of a 2005 exhibit by the same curators. Orthodox goons, who invaded the gallery and defaced the paintings, were acquitted. Click on the pictures for a closer look.