Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
In Moscow, a new piece of public statuary is proving controversial. Towering some 30 feet above the city’s Sadovaya Karetnaya Street, the sculpture of the late engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov cradling his eponymous assault rifle was erected by the Kremlin-backed Russian Military-Historical Society at a cost of 35 million roubles (around £450,000), and has rather divided opinion. ‘I cannot imagine a city in the world where a Homeric monument to an instrument of murder is erected’, said one Russian quoted by the Times.
The official reaction, however, has been rather more enthusiastic. Praising the statue, the Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky described the AK47 ‘Kalashnikov’ rifle as ‘Russia’s cultural brand’ (which, whatever you think of the likeness, does rather undermine the contributions of Tarkovsky, Tolstoy, Shostakovich, Malevich et al.). A high-ranking member of the Orthodox Church, meanwhile, lauded it as ‘a holy weapon’.
This is far from the first time the ubiquitous assault rifle has been, erm, immortalised in a monumental context. Its contribution to the socialist insurgency in Mozambique has earned it a permanent place on that country’s flag. It has also popped up in numerous statues produced by North Korea’s prolific Mansudae Art Studio.
Closer to home, the Kalashnikov has also been a source of inspiration to our very own YBAs. In 2012, London’s ICA staged a group exhibition entitled ‘AKA Peace’, for which several high profile contemporary artists were approached to customise examples of the weapon into their own inimitable styles. Notable contributors included Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Antony Gormley – although unlike the maker of Moscow’s latest monument, they were disrupting a symbol of war, rather than whacking it on a gigantic pedestal…