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Dialectic Of Hope

01. Biennale Moscou Moscow  •  Russian [RU] 28 Jan  • 25 Feb | 2005

Curated by Joseph Backstein, Daniel Birnbaum, Iara Boubnova, Nicolas Bourriaud, Rosa Martinez, Hans Ulrich Obrist

The First Moscow Contemporary Art Biennale, with the ironic name Dialectics of Hope, will open on January 28, 2005. This first will be a most scandalous show. The scandal is associated with two of the most prominent curators, Viktor Miziano and Joseph Backstein. Initially, both names were among the head curators. Then, it turned out that Miziano was absent from the curatorial group. On May 22, 2004, it became known that Viktor Miziano, deputy director of the State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO (Russian Fine Arts Center), editor-in-chief of Art Magazine, and one of the best-known Russian contemporary art exhibition curators, had been excluded from the international curatorial group working on the First Moscow Contemporary Art Biennale. The Cultural Ministry, which coordinates the Biennale, delicately justified the exclusion as « due to Viktor Miziano’s being busy with other exhibition projects such as the biennales in Venice and Săo Paulo. » Demonstrating an extremely Soviet approach to a problem, no official comments were made by the ministry. When a person is fired, he is simply presented with the information as a fait accompli; nothing is explained to the public. And if Săo Paulo was successfully completed because the process was impossible to stop then, Venice remains an open question. According to other evidence confirmed later, the real reason may have been a conflict within the curatorial group that the organizers tried to hide for as long as possible. At the same time, the state Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO Contemporary Art Department, headed by Miziano, was deprived of allowances, and department employees were dismissed. Among them were two editors of the Moscow Art Magazine, the first independent Russian art publication, whose editor-in-chief was Miziano. Then, the project, that had been developed by Miziano in cooperation with Bart de Baere for Europalia Festival, was passed on to Backstein. While there is direct evidence not just of a conflict between the two, there are successive repressions in which one of them is being squeezed out of the state-controlled area. At the end of May, Kommersant, a Russian independent newspaper, published an article entitled, Moscow Biennale will Open without Viktor Miziano, saying that Miziano had been « removed from the international curatorial group. » The article included the names of Biennale participants: The AES group, the Siniye Nosy (Blue Noses) group, and Oleg Kulik. The information was received from unofficial sources. When Backstein addressed questions at the first Biennale press conference on July 8, he acknowledged that Miziano had been associated with the project since the beginning. « Viktor Miziano’s contribution cannot be overestimated. He was one of initiators and we discussed this project…for more than two years,” Backstein said. “Viktor actively participated in preparation, but this man is supernaturally busy, take my word for it. I will not try to refute some rumors. Not only does he edit the leading art magazine in the country, he is also head of the Săo Paulo Biennale and the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Beside this, he carries out a huge number of projects. This is why I was appointed curator and coordinator. » Even his enemies acknowledge that Viktor Miziano is the best Russian specialist on contemporary art. His curatorial style, which has never followed the official tastes, disturbed everyone who aimed at power and money. The position of vice-chair of the Biennale Committee, a fictitious and pseudo-democratic organ, was cynically kept for him. Backstein was careful to comment, « …in this status Viktor continues to render the most effective assistance to this project. » Considering Miziano was never even invited to a simple press conference, the statement was absurd. At the first press conference, they read out the names of Biennale curators and some star participants. The international team of curators includes such famous names as Rosa Martinez and Iara Boubnova, authors of two previous Manifesta Festivals, Nicolas Bourriaud, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and others. As for the artists, the organizers announced such stars of contemporary Western art as Mauricio Katellan (Italy), Rirkrit Tiravania (US), Sergio Vega (Argentina), Monika Sosnowska (Poland), and Isaac Julian (UK). Among Russian participants, aforementioned Oleg Kulik and the AES and Siniye Nosy groups were announced as well as radical performance-artist Elena Kovylina. After a month, the information drastically changed. The composition of the curatorial group remained unchanged. As for the artists, however, the following restriction was introduced: « Young artists under 35 from Russia and foreign countries. » You will understand why soon. On August 4, 2004, an open discussion about the Moscow Biennale was initiated on the website artinfo.ru. Two documents showing that Miziano was removed as a result of bureaucratic intrigue were published. The documents stated that the real reason for Miziano’s removal was a letter or rather, in the best of Russian traditions, a donos, sent by Biennale Curator and Coordinator Joseph Backstein to the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency on April 19. In it, he said that Miziano took « a destructive position, » « hampered proper work, » arranged « obstruction, » « deliberately began spreading false information about Biennale status, » « failed or did not want to be…loyal to the project and his Russian and international colleagues. » With « grieving heart » Backstein recommended that Miziano be removed. The real « sensation » of this game is as follows: though the letter was written on behalf of the curatorial group it was not signed by any of the curators. If the author had informed them about it and consulted with them they would have signed it in agreement. Instead, five famous Moscow artists: Oleg Kulik and the members of AES+F group signed the letter and wrote « we have read the text and hereby, we acknowledge our agreement. » In fact, they were referring to all work done for the Biennale, to which they bore no relation. After a month’s delay, the recommendation was implemented. Miziano was removed notwithstanding all his services to the project. Viktor Miziano only learned about that report on May 20 and commented on it with his natural tact, intellect, and sense of humor in a letter of reply sent to Maya Kobahidze, head of the Russian Cultural Ministry’s Department of State Support of Art. He tried to save the First Moscow Biennale, born in throes and squabbles, from international scandal. He mentioned his rich professional experience and the successful projects implemented together with Backstein. He wrote that there was no documentation of facts imputed to him and offered the following explanation of the situation: “The report by Joseph Backstein results from psychological frustration caused by exclusive creative and nervous stress; the inadequate reaction of Moscow artists, with whom I have long been on friendly and creative terms, is a result of inexcusably prolonged delays in informing the public about the Moscow project preparation, which spawned rumors and fantasies and began to engender nervousness. » Further, Miziano wrote about the negative consequences, which would be unavoidable if the intrigue were not stopped. In order to get beyond this « regrettable misunderstanding, » he suggested a « professional compromise. » He offered his services in making a small author’s project, conducting a colloquium, preparing an article for the catalogue, anything to formally indicate his presence in the project and thus, to avoid a scandal. In response to the documents testifying unethical behavior on the part of the art scene representatives long been stuck in quarrels and intrigues, on August 24, an informal group of artists, critics, and other cultural workers published an open letter asking that Biennale plans be transparent. It becomes clear now why the concept of exhibited artists changed after August’s scandalous expose. At the second press conference, on September 2, the organizers announced that only young (from 20 to 30 years old) and unknown (« their names will convey nothing to you, » as they said) artists will be represented within the main curatorial project and their number will not exceed 45 participants. They did not mention O. Kulik, the AES group, and others announced before. Now, it is known that these artists participate in a special project called STARZ, prepared by Backstein. A. Osmologsky, no smaller star, refused to participate in this project. None of new names were unveiled. The final list will only be known shortly before the Biennale opening. Recently, famous gallery owner and promoter Marat Gelman and art theorist Andrey Kovalev published a selection of links listing on the internet some of the event’s main participants. The changes weren’t even explained on the Biennale’s official website. However, it is obvious that they transpired from the scandal involving both curators and well-known artists. The Biennale was under threat of being discredited. Backstein was therefore forced to backtrack. There are aspects of the organization that also raise an eyebrow. The core idea of the Biennale remains ambiguous. The curatorial group first met with its full complement in June, on the eve of the Manifesta Festival opening (literally several months before the Biennale!). The Cultural Ministry and ROSIZO took its time making materials available for a conference called Big Project for Russia, that Miziano had prepared. They want to erase from people’s memory the recollections about strategic advice that had been offered in Moscow by Harald Zeeman, Germano Chelant, Francesco Bonami, Rene Block, Robert Storr, and Hans Ulrich Obrist. Should the Cultural Ministry ever release these documents, it will become crystal clear that none of their strategic and innovative recommendations was considered for the Biennale preparation. The very conception of the exhibition–as a creative and intellectual project–is in danger. Instead, the dominant ideology of the current establishment calls for art work to be combined with success and money. Exhibiting at a biennale is a means to legitimize raising artwork prices. The real aim of the operation appears to be to replace intellectual curatorship with a new business-minded regime on the art scene. The encouraging title notwithstanding, the Moscow Biennale conflict demonstrated complete hopelessness of the six European curators’ good idea. As it happens, Dialectics of Hope is also the title of a book by Boris Kagarlitsky, a famous leftist intellectual. After these events, Kagarlitsky wrote an open letter demanding that he not be associated with the Biennale title. « I had thought that a biennale named « Dialectics of Hope » was to elaborate new models of a dialogue and representation of communities, which are interested in changing and possible politicizing cultural space from the bottom,” he wrote. “I ask not to confuse our hopes with the reality of the ruling classes’ official corrupted politics. » The name is taken as some concession, a conciliatory gesture, an outward appearance, a promise that the Biennale would be public and reflect divergent positions. By now, the only public aspect of the Biennale is the scandal. Very soon we will see how much the exhibition will correspond to the concept as stated. It is impossible not to say that the Biennale situation looks very Russian because further cardinal changes and a change of poles in the immediate proximity to the opening can not be excluded. (when preparing the article the author referred to the materials available on GIF.ru and artinfo.ru websites)

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Artists : CAO Fei, AES+F, Oleg Kulik, Gor Chahal, Vasili Tsagolov, Tatyana Liberman, Gueorgi Pervov, Wikentij Nilin, Alexander Petljura, Nikolai Polisski, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Irina Nakhova, Igor Savchenko, Olga Kisselva, Bill Viola, Christian Boltanski, Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, Pavel Althamer, Boris Achour, Vasco Araújo, Johanna Billing, Blue Noses, Andreas Bock, Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda, Jeremy Deller, Trisha Donnelly, Sam Durant, YANG Fudong, Gelatin, Subodh Gupta, Ivan Moudov, Aydan Murtezaoglu, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, Melik Ohanian, Jeroen de Rijke & Willem de Rooij, Santiago Sierra, Fatimah Tuggar, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Ana Bilankov, Serguei Bratkov, Lyudmila Gorlova, Vladimir Kupriyanov, Melanie Manchot, Valery Orlov, Pilar Albarracin, Collectif_FACT

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