Posted 13 февраля 2023,, 09:34

Published 13 февраля 2023,, 09:34

Modified 13 февраля 2023,, 12:15

Updated 13 февраля 2023,, 12:15

Battle for the Dead: Western museums "correct" biographies of Russian artists

Battle for the Dead: Western museums "correct" biographies of Russian artists

13 февраля 2023, 09:34
Russia's special operation in Ukraine provoked a new round of revision of the nationality of artists born in the territory of the "Russian world".

Ivan Zubov

In connection with the events in Ukraine, fierce debates have been going on for many years about the need to reconsider the attribution of writers, artists and musicians who have at least some relation to Russia, whether it is the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.

The special operation only exacerbated this problem. Not only the great natives of Ukraine, but Gogol or Bulgakov, who wrote in Russian at the same time, but many artists whose work cannot be evaluated by language affiliation, were under revision. So, a few days ago, the artist Arkhip Kuindzhi was re-accredited at the largest museum of the United States "Metropolitan", turning from Russian/Russian into "Ukrainian", since he lived and worked in Ukraine, and mainly in the Crimea. Thus, the Americans at the same time supported Kiev's political claims to regain the Crimean peninsula. The words artist celebrating both in Russia and Ukraine (artist recognized in Russia and Ukraine – ed.) were removed from the museum's website. On the caption to Kuindzhi's painting "Red Sunset on the Dnieper", the line about the artist's nationality now indicates that he is Ukrainian.

Will Russia be left with only Kandinsky?

Writer Alexander Snegirev writes in his blog about this:  


"I've been thinking about such things for a long time. There are a lot of Russian/Russian art in the Metro, in the Pompidou, in the Tel Aviv Museum and other world collections. Chagall, Kandinsky, Larionov, Sutin, etc. And they always (almost always) have problems with the plates. The countries of birth are Belarus or Ukraine. Apart from Kandinsky, of course, Kandinsky is a Muscovite. In short, if one or another genius was born on the territory of present-day Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova or even Poland, their countries of birth are Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Poland. Mikhail Larionov, in principle, can be called a Moldovan artist. Even Pridnestrovian. Tiraspol.

The incident is that in the years of birth and life of the mentioned artists, such countries did not exist, but the Russian Empire existed. I respect the sovereignty of the listed, just an unappreciated fact. It's like the country of birth, for example, of Cicero, to indicate not the Roman Republic, but the Papal Region, the province of Lazio, and Genghis Khan was then a Soviet citizen at all, Buryat. I remember the Sakhalin guide of the Museum of Local lore said something like: "before us are the remains of a woman who was buried in the territory of our municipality in the first century BC".

Probably, on museum plaques it is necessary to indicate the name of the state of birth and the name of the state that exists in this place now. I am silent about the national ownership of artists, it is, of course, always interesting, but a little over the top. Kuindzhi, if anything, was a Greek. The Greeks, by the way, not unreasonably consider Crimea their own, but oh well. All this is not only and not so much an art criticism dispute, it's like a bit of a rewriting of history, pulling details out of the cultural structure, one was pulled out, the other was pulled out..."

It is not the place of birth that is more important, but the place of creativity

As expected, a fierce controversy broke out around this post.

Many similar incidents from world history were recalled. One of the funniest is about Bach, who is considered the greatest German composer, although there was no Germany during his lifetime, and formally speaking, he was a native of the Holy Roman Empire. Not to mention the Pole Joseph Conrad, a native of the Russian Empire, who became an outstanding English writer…    

Media manager Anna Paveleva is trying to solve the problem in this way:

"There is an affiliation to a certain layer of culture. Writers have a plus language: this does not always work, since there is definitely American literature written in English. For example, a Jewish painter walked like that for me. On the topic, perception, self-expression.

But, by the way, in Turkey they don't write on Lycian tombs - Turkish tombs. Yes, Lycian, on the territory of modern Turkey. Now there is a trend as with the cancellation of Shakespeare because of political correctness. Without considering the historical context. Then, yes, it was the Russian Empire, Ottoman, Roman or Byzantine, the USSR, the state of Urartu or Sumeria (historical fact). In parentheses, you can write the modern name of the country and locality. But this will not affect the worldview of the author of the work in any way. He didn't know about modern borders. The date of creation of the work is more important here. It is easier for people connected with the word: the language already carries a huge layer of culture to which you belong. Although, for example, there is a philosopher Skovoroda, who wrote in Russian, Latin and ancient Greek. In three languages, two of which were already dead then. For creative people, it is not the place and date of birth that is important, but rather the place where and under what conditions he began to create ..."

The Germans have already thought of everything!

Literary critic Valery Shubinsky recalled, by the way, that Kuindzhi himself considered himself a Russian artist:


"The nationality of a writer is determined, among other things, by the language, the artist's self-consciousness. The ethnic Greek Kuindzhi, who lived in Ukraine, undoubtedly considered himself a Russian artist. Kuindzhi, born in Mariupol district of Yekaterinoslav province of the Russian Empire, had Russian, Ukrainian, Greek roots. He has lived most of his life in Odessa and Crimea. Here 's what he wrote about himself: "I am forced to declare that I am Russian, my ancestors are Greeks who, under Empress Catherine, migrated from the southern coast of Crimea and founded the city of Mariupol and 24 villages".

That is why it is unlikely to be correct to indicate the nationality of the artists in the attribution, if they themselves did not mention it. Most likely, it is correct to write the place of birth according to the administrative-territorial division at the time of birth and in brackets the current location according to the current administrative-territorial division, and only in the most necessary cases to specify on etiquette - a Jew, a Russian, a Ukrainian.

By the way, in Germany this problem has already been solved and everywhere they write on the labels for paintings, for example, like this: Marc Chagall. 1887. Vitebsk, Russian Empire (Belarus) - 1985 Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.