Russian artist on the run as authorities seize provocative paintings

Contemporary artist Konstantin Altunin plans to claim asylum in France after authorities close exhibition.

Russian painter Konstantin Altunin, who recently showed work depicting President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev in women’s underwear, has fled from Russia to France where he intends to claim asylum, according to the media. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities have closed Altunin’s exhibition and sequestered the risque paintings.

Konstantin Altunin's 'Travesty' cuts a little too close to home for the Russian President and Prime Minister. Image courtesy Getty Images.

Konstantin Altunin’s ‘Travesty’ cuts a little too close to home for the Russian President and Prime Minister. Image courtesy Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images.

Konstantin Altunin hurriedly left Russia on Tuesday 27 August after four of his paintings were seized by the authorities from the Museum of Power, St Petersburg, where they were on show.

The offending pieces include one of Putin, wearing only a negligee, brushing a scantily-clad Medvedev’s hair; another shows the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I, bare-chested save for a smattering of Soviet-era prison tattoos.

I am an artist, I want to paint, not be a prisoner,” said Altunin to NBC News, explaining his decision to leave for France.

Aleksandr Donskoi, director of the Museum of Power, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that Altunin is worried that “he will be arrested and he doesn’t want to return,” reports The Art Newspaper. Donskoi’s museum has been closed down twice since the controversy began on 26 August.

Viktoria Tsarkova, ‘Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo’, pencil on paper.

Lampooning authority figures is almost irresistible to Russian artists like Viktoria Tsarkova. ‘Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo’, pencil on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Russian police have not specified the laws broken by Altunin’s paintings. The Guardian notes that there exists a Russian law against insulting state authorities, and another prohibiting ”homosexual propaganda” aimed at minors, both of which could be used against Altunin and the Museum of Power.

According to The Art Newspaper, the Russian media reported that charges of “extremism” could be brought, “a broad term in Russia’s criminal code.” Vitaly Milonov, a St Petersburg anti-gay legislator and Orthodox traditionalist, told the RIA Novosti news agency that he found Altunin’s works to be “blatantly offensive” and filed a complaint with the police.

Shrinking space for creative critique in Russia

Altunin’s flight to France is the latest in a litany of cases involving freedom of expression and contemporary art in Russia as the Putin-Medvedev government shows decreasing patience with dissent.

Marat Guelman, one of Russia’s most prominent contemporary art figures, was sacked as director of Perm Museum of Contemporary Art in June 2013 for refusing to axe an exhibition critical of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. The event, slated for 2014, has proved controversial, and when artist Vasily Slonov’s  “Welcome! Sochi 2014″ exhibit was closed during a cultural festival Guelman reopened it at his gallery. Igor Gladnev, the minister of culture for the Perm region, sacked Guelman as a direct result, says NBC News.

Earlier in August 2013 artist Ilya Farbin, who moved from Moscow to rural Russia to teach in a school, was sentenced to seven years hard labour in a maximum security prison camp after allegedly accepting bribes from a building contractor; Farbin’s supporters counter with claims of antisemitism and traditionalism.

August 2013 marks one year since Pussy Riot‘s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were imprisoned for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral. A Russian court denied the the feminist art collective members parole in July despite pressure from the international community.

Cassandra Naji


Related Topics: Events in RussiaRussian artistsart and politics, censorship or art

Related Posts:


Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Russian contemporary artists