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How ill-informed is Vladislav Surkov about American culture?

19 March 2014

Vladislav Surkov, one of seven Russian officials to have to have had dollar-denominated assets frozen by the White House, has little time for American culture: ‘The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.’

Quite how well Surkov’s American idols would have fared in Putin’s Russia is open to debate. It’s hard to imagine Tupac, whose music gave such powerful expression to the political and social complexities facing the post-Black Power generation, kicking off a stadium tour in modern Moscow. Black footballers are already threatening to boycott the 2018 World Cup, citing widespread, unchecked racist abuse from fans during Champions League and domestic matches.

Ginsberg was tried on obscenity charges in relation to the homoerotic content of Howl in the US in the 1950s. The poem’s candid and often explicit celebration of gay love hardly makes it suitable for bedside tables in today’s Kremlin. Ginsburg in Russia 2014 might have found himself more beaten than Beat.

Surkov’s enthusiasm for Jackson Pollock is ironic in other ways. Along with other Abstract Expressionists, Pollock was allegedly promoted by the CIA in the 1950s and ‘60s as representative of American intellectual freedom and creativity. The American avant-garde played their own unwitting role in the propaganda offensive against Soviet claims of cultural suprematism.

And although Surkov can google Jackson Pollock to his heart’s content – he may even own some catalogues – there aren’t many opportunities for him to see actual works in Russian museums. So there’s little chance of him getting a sense for the physicality of Pollock’s materials, of the texture and thickness of the paint and how it instigates a violent lyrical world of its own.

There’s certainly no work by Pollock in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. He is one of the artists that the museum is looking to acquire or borrow on long-term loan as part of the museum’s ‘Hermitage 20/21’ project. Perhaps Surkov will lend the poster from his bedroom wall?

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