A visitor looks at a painting called "The Appearance of Vladimir Putin before the People" by Konstantin Altunin, August 22, 2013© REUTERS/ Alexander Demianchuk
Exposition at the Museum of Authority in St.Petersburg© Photo Museum of Authority
MOSCOW, August 28 (RIA Novosti) – The author of a police-confiscated portrait of Russia’s ruling tandem dressed in women’s underwear urged President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to order the return of the artwork – and also to “abolish censorship in art.”
On Monday, police confiscated Konstantin Altunin’s satirical painting, which depicts Putin in a pink-and-white nightgown touching the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is wearing nothing but a pushup bra and panties. The portrait was displayed at the Museum of Authority’s “Rulers” exhibition, which opened in St. Petersburg earlier this month – and was closed by police later Tuesday.
Police seized the canvas along with a rainbow-colored portrait of St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who authored a ban on promoting homosexuality to minors, as well as a painting named “Erotic Dreams of Lawmaker [Yelena] Mizulina” and a black-and-white sketch of Moscow Patriarch Kirill showing off prison tattoos with skulls and busts of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.
In a tongue-in-cheek open letter, the artist compared the confiscation to a mafia operation. “I demand the return of my paintings, which were stolen from the Museum of Authority by an organized criminal group led by lawmaker Milonov,” Altunin said in the letter posted on the museum’s VKontakte social network page.
In an apparent reference to several recent cases of prosecution of Russian artists whose works angered authorities or Russia’s dominant Orthodox Church, Altunin also urged Putin “to abolish censorship in art, because any Russian nationals who want to create [art] at will and express their opinion could find themselves in my position,” the letter said.
Altunin reiterated his request to the G20 heads of state, set to meet in St. Petersburg early next month. “I ask [you] to mention the topic of censorship in [a] personal conversation with Putin and ask him to return my paintings seized from the Museum of Authority,” Altunin said.
St. Petersburg police said Tuesday that the four paintings were “withdrawn” from the museum following a complaint by the lawmaker Milonov because the works might “violate existing legislation.” The police did not say which laws may have been broken, although Russia does have a law against “insulting representatives of authority.”
Milonov authored legislation making “the promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors” in St. Petersburg punishable with fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($15,000). The law was adopted in March 2012 and was a precursor to similar federal legislation that Putin signed in June.
Mizulina, a lawmaker with the A Just Russia party, lobbied for a law that levies fines for dissemination of “non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. The law has attracted international condemnation, with some gay activists in response calling for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The Museum of Authority’s owner, Alexander Donskoi, a former mayor of the Arctic city of Archangelsk, received a suspended three-year jail sentence for abuse of power and was fined for using forged documents in 2008. He claimed that the charges against him were concocted after he declared his presidential ambitions in 2006, Russian media reported.
He currently owns two other unusual attractions – the "G-Spot" sex museum and a "USSR Museum" in Moscow that displays a “breathing mummy” of Soviet state founder Lenin.
The confiscation of the Putin-in-drag painting is not the first time that Russian artists poking fun at the authorities have incurred their wrath.
Marat Guelman, a founder of a controversial museum in the city of Perm, said in June that he was fired from his position as head of the museum after opening an art exhibition that ridiculed the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Putin’s pet project.
Two members of the Pussy Riot female punk rock band were sentenced last August to two years in jail for their unsanctioned punk-prayer protest against Putin at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Several criminal investigations have been opened against artist Artyom Loskutov for allegedly inciting religious hatred with his so-called icons on T-shirts and billboards that portrayed Pussy Riot members as the Holy Mary and Orthodox saints.
In 2010, two art curators in Moscow were convicted and fined for organizing a 2007 art exhibition that included images of Jesus Christ depicted as Mickey Mouse and Lenin. The exhibition was closed after Orthodox activists stormed in, damaging some of the exhibits.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).