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Moscow Police: Unlikely Picasso Fans?

21 September 2015

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The long arm of the law is not known for its love of contemporary art, but recent events in Moscow suggest that Russian rozzers may be law enforcement’s answer to the Stuckists.

Last month, members of an ultra-orthodox far-right group called ‘God’s Will’ attacked and seriously damaged several works in an exhibition themed around censorship at Moscow’s Manezh centre. As the attackers saw it, the art on show – in particular a sculpture by artist Vadim Sidur depicting a naked Christ – was ‘illegal’ under Russia’s laws surrounding ‘offending religious feelings’. Two of the vandals were arrested and hauled to a Moscow city court to await sentencing.

And so justice was served in the form of an ₨1,000 (£9) fine for ‘petty hooliganism’. Rakewell is not one to judge, but even so, he can’t help but feel that the punishment was hardly proportionate to the crime; the damage the two thugs inflicted on the Manezh is estimated to be anything between ₨196,000 and ₨1 million. Despite much protest from the Russian art world, the prosecutor’s office flatly refused to launch a criminal investigation for vandalism until last Tuesday, when public outcry forced the reluctant cops to open a criminal case.

Indeed, to judge by the Moscow authorities’ habitually enthusiastic response to vandalism, the Rake is rather surprised by their unwillingness to take the matter further. On the same day that the criminal investigation was finally announced, a St Petersburg resident called Vladimir Podrezov was sentenced to two years in jail for painting the top of a Moscow skyscraper in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Readers with longer memories will recall the case of the feminist art collective Pussy Riot, three of whose members were sentenced to two years in a penal colony under the same religious hatred laws so beloved of God’s Will. Their crime? Performing an anti-government song at the altar of a Moscow cathedral.

So why the hesitation to investigate the Manezh vandals? Rakewell is loathe to suppose the Moscow police might be somewhat touchy about the issue of censorship, or indeed to consider suggestions that the Kremlin’s views are becoming ever-more aligned with those of radical Orthodox groups like God’s Will. Who knows? Perhaps the cops adhere to Picasso’s rule that every act of creation is a form of destruction. Whatever the motive, the Rake is impatient to hear the verdict of the investigation.

Got a story for Rakewell? Email tips to rakewell@apollomag.com