Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#12 - JRL 2007-103 - JRL Home
Context (Moscow Times)
May 4-10, 2007
My President
Two well-known figures in the Russian art world offer competing visions for a Boris Yeltsin monument.

By Anna Malpas

Last month, art collector Igor Markin used his blog to announce a design competition for a monument to former president Boris Yeltsin. On the same day, Russian media reported plans by sculptor Zurab Tsereteli to create his own monument. But Markin sees his competition as offering an alternative to the ubiquitous works of Tsereteli.

Markin, a businessman with a large collection of Russian contemporary art, plans to open a private museum next month at 4 Khlynovsky Tupik in central Moscow. Speaking by telephone last Friday, he said he wanted to place the monument in a small public garden opposite the museum, and put its budget at around $100,000.

The competition began "a little as a joke," Markin admitted. He posted an entry on his LiveJournal blog on April 24 stating that artists could enter with designs up to 16 meters high, sculpted from bronze, marble or tufa (a kind of stone). "We started analyzing and discussing this, and realized it was really interesting," he said.

Markin's message included a postcript that joked, "Zurab Tsereteli has already submitted an entry." Indeed, in an April 24 news conference, the sculptor declared his intention to create a monument to Yeltsin, Interfax reported.

The same day, Tsereteli posted a statement on his web site hinting at what the monument might be like. "I think [Yeltsin's] walk, his inner strength, his stateliness are the figure of a real Russian tsar," he wrote. "In time, I will try to recreate him the way I remember him."

On Wednesday, though, Tsereteli's press secretary denied that he had any definite plans. "He thinks it's possible," Irina Turayeva said, adding that the sculptor had been planning to create a work portraying cellist Mstislav Rostropovich just before his death last week.

The prolific Georgian-born sculptor has depicted politicians before. One of his statues shows Mayor Yury Luzhkov as an athlete, swinging a tennis racket and kicking a soccer ball at the same time. Another shows President Vladimir Putin in a judo outfit.

Though favored by Luzhkov, Tsereteli is a controversial figure in the Russian art world. His works have often been criticized as towering eyesores, especially his 94-meter-high sculpture of Peter the Great on the banks of the Moscow River.

Markin said that if Tsereteli wanted to take part in his competition, he would not be barred. "We will accept him," he said. "It's important for PR."

But the collector -- who owns a company that makes window blinds -- was also sharply critical of Tsereteli, calling him a "bad artist who has soiled the whole world with his monuments."

Markin said he would use his competition to offer a wide range of artists the chance to show their ideas. After posting the original blog entry, he decided not to hold an open competition, but rather to invite "really good artists" to take part, he said, adding that the exact rules had not yet been formulated. He named the prominent contemporary artist Oleg Kulik and 2006 Innovation prize winner Alexei Kallima, who often draws Chechen fighters, as possible entrants.

The designs will go on display in August at Markin's museum, which will be called Art4.Ru, he said. Visitors will be able to vote for their favorite.

The collector admitted that he had only a verbal agreement allowing him to erect a sculpture outside the museum. "Clearly, we can't just go and put up a monument."

Although Markin spoke of his "very positive attitude" to Yeltsin, and his initial blog entry called for a sculpture reflecting "Russianness and sovereignty," he said Friday that he wouldn't make creative suggestions. "I am not an artist myself. I gather talented people and say, 'Do what you like.'"

However, he ruled out one design for the monument. "It's clear that it won't be Yeltsin on a horse, as Tsereteli maybe is doing."