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Drawing a Blank – Ukraine’s Maidan Protests and Manifesta



The European art biennial Manifesta is hosted by St. Petersburg this year. Until the 31st of October the Hermitage presents works of international contemporary artists, curated by Kaspar König. His choice of this year’s place had been strongly criticized and the beginning of the Ukraine crisis has continued to aggravate this debate.The American artist Sean Snyder and the Ukrainian cultural scientist and professor of Cultural Studies at the national University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Olga Bryukhovetska, reflect on the Manifesta and the power of contemporary art in the light of the Kiever Majdan protests. The text was published first in the magazine of contemporary art and culture „frieze“ no 164 (June, July, August, 2014).

‘It is by refusing to turn Russian money into cultural capital that we can get the point across that Putin’s policies are beyond the pale,’ wrote Jonathan Jones in a Guardian blog entry entitled ‘Let’s Hit Putin where It Hurts – All Artists Must Boycott Russia’, posted in early April. In fact, by that point, discussions around a boycott of the Kasper König-curated Manifesta 10 – slated to take place in Saint Petersburg from 28 June to 31 October – had been ongoing for several months, initially prompted by the Russian authorities’ oppression of dissidents and lgbt rights activists, and subsequently fuelled by events in Ukraine, with Russia punishing the country for the democratic victory gained during the recent Maidan protests in Kyiv. While the Polish artist Paweł Althamer, the Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi and the Saint Petersburg-based collective Chto Delat? have already declined to participate, the evolving situation in Ukraine compels everyone involved in Manifesta 10 to take a stance on whether or not to collaborate with Russia’s rich and powerful.

The word maidan – square – has come to define a revolutionary, self-organized people defending their rights. Since 1989, when students demanding Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union occupied Maidan, major protests have always taken place here. In a bid to inhibit mass protest, the square’s lavish open spaces – typical of late-Soviet design – were remodelled in the early 2000s: kitschy sculptures were installed and glass domes rose up from the new underground shopping mall, impeding movement. These precautionary measures failed dramatically, however, when allegations that the election of the country’s Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, had been corrupt resulted in the Orange Revolution of November 2004.

The latest Maidan protests, which began on 21 November 2013, saw the site reconfigured as a stronghold for protesters, who occupied the square with tents and tyre barricades. Art was a significant presence from the outset, with students from the nearby Kyiv Conservatory carrying a piano into the square and playing Chopin for the crowd despite freezing temperatures. The protestors, a number of whom were artists, designed posters, painted helmets and graffitied slogans around the square. Continue reading

Coming to St. Petersburg?

Makhayev,_Kachalov_-_View_of_Neva_Downstream_between_Winter_Palace_and_Academy_of_Sciences_1753_(right)If you’re coming to St. Petersburg for the first time (like me), it’s great to get an introduction to some of the basics.  Amy Ballard, Senior Historic Preservation Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC shares her longtime passion for the city in today’s blog post.  We hope it inspires you as plan for the trip. LN.

I’ve been traveling to Russia since 1973 and there’s one place I keep returning to and that’s St. Petersburg. Every time I go I discover something new and I hope you will love it as much as I do. Here are just a few tips that may help!

About money: you can’t get rubles before arriving in Russia, but ATMs are prevalent and easy to use with instructions in English. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted most places. If you plan to bring US$, make sure the bills are new.

Although we have a full schedule, one needs to eat! And St. Petersburg is full of wonderful coffee shops (yes, there’s even a Starbucks), restaurants featuring every type of cuisine (with Russian and English menus), and fast food from McDonalds to Carl Jrs to name a few).  If you’re in the mood for Russian food, look no further than Russian Vodka Museum. Actually it’s a restaurant with a museum dedicated to the history of vodka. It’s next door to the Stroganoff Steak House, and a long-time St. Petersburg resident owns them both. They’re a short walk from the Hermitage, and St. Isaacs Square.

Any restaurant with the name “Ginza Group” is a sure bet for good food. The Ginza Group owns the “Mari Vanna” chain of Russian restaurants that are in London, New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. There’s one in St. Petersburg too.

Speaking of fast food, there’s the delicious Russian chain Teremok, where you can have a tasty meal of borscht  (beet and beef soup) and blini (Russian pancake with filling). Teremok features every kind of blini and is a good place for vegetarians. Another chain in town is Stolle. The decor is reminiscent of an early 20th century café with historic photos of the city on the wall. Stolle features pies of all kinds: cabbage, meat, fish, vegetables, and delicious berry pies for dessert.  There’s one close to the Hermitage on Nevsky Prospect (the 5th Avenue of Petersburg).

Continue reading

Museums as ambassadors and political players? Impulses for German-Russian relations

This blog has already provided many important and interesting suggestions for my conference talk. Thanks to all colleagues for their comments to my contribution on German Russian museum relations. However, also many other contributions and comments have inspired me. Today I will share my theses and again I am looking forward to further impulses.


Exhibition “Our Russians – our Germans”, 2007 Berlin

German-Russian relations are not at their best. Recently, the crisis in Ukraine, tightened controls of the political foundations, and continuous discussions about the development of the civil society and the human rights situation in Russia have been straining the [mutual] relationship. Even the otherwise always prospering business community complains about decreasing turnovers and in the cultural sector rifts are clearly visible despite claims to the opposite by the German state-minister for cultural affairs.

History shows that such periods of estrangement have repeatedly occurred in the past in spite of a generally good relationship. The low point of course was the catastrophe of German policy of extermination in East Europe during the Second World War. This tragic period is documented by the German-Russian museum in Berlin-Karlshorst. It is, besides the Allied Museum, a unique institution of international museum cooperation in Germany. The importance attributed to the German-Russian relationship by the German Federal Government is shown by the fact that it is one of the very few museums fully financed by the Federal Government. Continue reading

Museums of Ekaterinburg Factories

View over the Iset river in Yekaterinburg, Russia by andrijbulba

View over the Iset river in Yekaterinburg, Russia by andrijbulba

Ekaterinburg is the fourth-largest city in Russia in the middle of the Eurasian continent, and the main industrial and cultural center of the broader region. At the conference, Denis Vladimirovich Ilichev from the Ural Federal University is looking at the high number of industrial museums, being more active than others in their community work but at the same time facing a number of challenges. Here is what he will present:

The main aim of the lecture is the survey of museums of industrial plants in Ekaterinburg, estimation of their effectiveness as thematic units and their benefit for the plants. Generally, a group of corporate plant museums as the units of private enterprises, which are stock companies, is the most active group contacting with museum community. An enterprise interested in the creation of favorable image and widening marketing contacts, a priori has to develop its own museums as part of PR-company. A short history of evolution of plant museums, their today’s image and concerns, is considered based on the example of several plant museums. They are facing the following possibilities: influences on changing social-economic situation in a city district (UralChemMach factory); successful incorporation of the museum into PR strategy and  management of the plant (museum of Plant named after Kalinin, museum of UralMach plant). Continue reading

Spreading the Conversation

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 8.55.28 AMAs the conference in St. Petersburg draws closer, and issues of museums, power and politics continue to grow in importance (just check out any of our weekly news roundups for confirmation of that),  we wanted to take a minute to share the ways in which you, dear reader, can contribute to the conversation, whether you’ll be heading to Russia or not.

We’ve just created an open LinkedIn Group, Museum, Politics and Power. Got a question, want to start a conversation, or looking for like-minded colleagues?  Find us there and share your point of view.  And of course, don’t forget our Facebook page.   If you’re on Twitter,  we have a hashtag, #museumspolitics and you could follow either Katrin Hieke (@MuseumThings) or Linda Norris (@lindabnorris) for regular updates.

But what about here on the blog, you might ask?   Voices from all over the world help make this a compelling read–so consider contributing yours.  If you’re presenting at the conference, you could use this space to work out ideas, ask for information, and get feedback.  But if you just have an interest and want to speak out on a Museum, Politics, and Power topic, we welcome any and all civil discourse.  More about writing a post here.

The generous sharing of information and ideas should–and usually does–characterize the museum field worldwide.  So spread away!

Photo by Drew Harty

Museum model transformation: monocentric to polycentric – Трансформация модели музея: от моноцентрической к полицентрической

We should deal with the museum as a „polycentric institution“, not only with special fields of museum work. This is the main thesis of Anatolij A. Budko, director of the Russian Museum of Military Medicine in St. Petersburg, our conference city. He will be a conference speaker, today he shares his thoughts about a more global approach to museums with us. How can we analyze the museum with its social functions in changing societies as a whole?   How can we identify specific Russian characteristics that might have universal application?


Russian Museum of Military Medicine in St. Petersburg

Concept approaches towards museum activity in use till nowadays have interpreted not a museum but only separate elements or the reasons of its existence, which are used by different not even related to each other fields of science and cultural practice. While analyzing a museum as a cultural phenomenon attention has been focused on one or several aspects of admitted importance.

This approach in its essence is an overweighted one and forms a monocentric museum model that does not allow viewing a phenomenon of a modern museum with all its changing social functions. As a result the crisis of museums as a social institution is being talked about. In the cultural sphere museums tend to be reserve and self-sufficient that prevents them from the necessary adaptation to the changing conditions of the “one time” world. Continue reading

Instruments of Development of a Regional Museum Community

Photo by Dmitri Lebedev, 19.02.2006

Photo by Dmitri Lebedev, 19.02.2006

How to broaden audiences? How to connect museum professionals? How to improve museum work and finally – how to monitor and measure success?
At the Museum and Politics conference, Irina A. Sizova and Oksana S. Ulyanova of the National Research Tomsk State University in Russia will share with us their experiences in developing a museum community in the Tomsk region, southeast of the West Siberian Plain. For the blog they provided us the abstract of their paper. In which regions of the world do you see similar efforts to create such a community? What works well, what doesn’t?

The development of the Russian regional museum community demands attention of museum experts. However universal instruments of this purpose don’t exist. Therefore in various regions of Russia there are local instruments for development of the museum community, which are applied taking into account policy and economic factors.

This paper consists of three sections a) the list of instruments of development of local museum community on the example of the Tomsk region was defined (week of the museums, a museum forum, museum association, Internet space); b) developed a technique of use of each instrument, process of preparation and carrying out studied actions are described; c) the analysis of efficiency of studied instruments in the course of association of regional museum community is provided. Continue reading


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