Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts

December 28, 2016

Recovered: 5 paintings stolen from the Levitan House Museum in Plyos, 3 arrests made.

© Russian Interior Ministry
Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk has issued a statement relaying that Russian authorities have arrested three individuals, ages 29, 33, and 37, for their suspected involvement in the August 5, 2014 3:00 am theft of five paintings by 19th century classical landscape painter Иса́ак Ильи́ч Левита́н (Isaak Levitan).  The artworks were originally stolen by two individuals from the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, a small town located on the Volga river in the Ivanovo Region where the painter lived and worked for a period of time. 

With the arrest of these three suspects, authorities have recovered all five of the stolen paintings.  The artworks are:

"Ravine behind the fence"
"A Quiet Pool"
"A Quiet River"
"Railway Stop"

One of Russia's most significant and celebrated landscape artists, Levitan's naturalistic scenes, depicting and tranquil forests and countrysides, introduced a new genre of paintings which came to be known as the mood landscapes. The artist's body of work includes approximately 1,000 paintings, sketches and drawings with the bulk of his work being held in Russian museums. At the time of the artworks theft, the five stolen paintings were estimated to be worth 77 million rubles ($1.3 million). 

According to the Interior Ministry, the three criminals arrested in this case were said to have been involved in a series of other crimes including an armed highway robbery of cash-in-transit couriers this past November in the Nizhny Novgorod region and an earlier May 2016 bank robbery of the Nizhny Novgorod Bank where the crooks made off with more than 5 million rubles ($82,200). 

Officers working a joint investigation involving the Main Criminal Investigation Department of the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service, CID GU MVD of Russia in Nizhny Novgorod region, and the CID AMIA Russia's Ivanovo region executed a series of search warrants.   During one, of a house in the Moscow region, Russian Interior Ministry authorities seized more than one kilogram of cocaine and recovered one of the five stolen artworks there-by detaining two suspects.  Russian Interior Ministry in Nizhny Novgorod then recovered the other four stolen paintings during a secondary search warrant of another location.

In the course of an interview with Russian media, Alla Chayanov, director of the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, reminded the public that the theft of well known, catalogued and inventoried artworks of whatever financial value, are largely unsaleable on the licit art market where famous stolen works of art are easily recognised.   In cases such as this artworks only have value on the black market, usually as an alternative currency within the criminal world. 

A video of the recovery of four of the artworks can be seen in the news report below. 

As formal possessions of the Russian Federation, the recovered artworks will now be evaluated for authenticity by the matching of their accession numbers.  They will then likely be sent for conservation evaluation prior to being returned to the public's viewing. 

April 27, 2016

Russian Federal Security Service is investigating several officials and businessmen over missing funds for state-sponsored heritage restoration projects.

On March 15, 2016 Russian state media reported that the country's Deputy Culture Minister Grigory Pirumov had been detained on embezzlement charges.  

Earlier that day, the Federal Security Service - the main KGB successor agency known under its Russian acronym FSB - announced that several high-ranking culture ministry officials and businessmen were under investigation for allegedly “embezzling state funds allocated for restoration work on cultural heritage sites”.  It is alleged that millions of rubles, earmarked for the restoration of famed cultural heritage sites, are missing.

The detained officials, in addition to Deputy Minister Pirumov, include Boris Mazo, the head of the Russian Ministry of Culture's department of property management and investment policy, as well as several heads of construction companies involved in restoration projects commissioned by the ministry. 

The FSB accused Pirumov of organizing a criminal scheme in which the suspects inflated the costs of restoration works to steal public funds.  Pirumov, who was appointed to the post of Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2013, coordinates and controls work of three departments of the ministry: department of property and investment policy, state protection of cultural heritage and the legal department.  He also oversees activity of the State Agency for management and operation of the historical and cultural monuments of the Ministry of Culture of Russia (FGBUK AUIPIK).

Novodevichy Convent, Moscow - Image Credit: Wikipedia
A source at the culture ministry said that the criminal case was linked to a number of cultural heritage sites, including the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.  The convent, in southwestern Moscow, built in the 16th and 17th centuries in the so-called Moscow Baroque style, was part of a chain of monastic ensembles that were integrated into the defence system of the city. The convent was directly associated with the political, cultural and religious history of Russia, and closely linked to the Moscow Kremlin. Women of the Tsar’s family and the aristocracy used it, and members of the Tsar’s family and entourage were also buried in its cemetery.  The convent provides an example of the highest accomplishments of Russian architecture with rich interiors and an important collection of paintings and artifacts.   Restoration works there began last year, completion expected in 2019. Media reports said 800 million rubles ($11.2 million USD at current exchange rate) were allocated for this aim.

Investigators are also looking into financing of the restoration works carried out at the Ivanovsky Convent in Moscow, a theater in the ancient city of Pskov, in northwest Russia, and the Izborsk Fortress.  Preservationists had raised concerns in the past over work done on the fourteenth-century fortress, located in near the Estonian border and restored in 2012 to mark the 1150th anniversary of Russian statehood.  A 2013 audit by the government’s accounting chamber found that 60 million rubles, or about $2 million USD, in funding for Izborsk went unaccounted for. 

All this happens only two months after President Vladimir Putin publicly reprimanded the culture ministry for failing to preserve state monuments.  In December 2015, at the meeting of presidential Council for Culture and Art in Kremlin, Putin chastised officials about decrepit state of the country’s rich architectural heritage.  Galina Malanicheva, Chair of the central council of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments (VOOPiK), reported at that meeting that the loss of historic sites far exceeded the average annual loss of 10 to 15 officially registered monuments, since due to a complicated listing process just over 10% of Russia’s monuments are officially registered.  The Russian media blamed the subsequent reported resignation of Mikhail Bryzgalov, the culture ministry’s top cultural heritage official, on Putin’s dressing-down. Vladimir Tolstoy, Putin’s chief cultural adviser, denied that Bryzgalov’s departure had anything to do with Putin’s reprimand.  

Aside from the allegation of individuals siphoning off public funds, complaints have been made that the Ministry of Culture is responsible for hiring unqualified companies whose poor quality renovations have irreparably damaged Russia's cultural legacy. 

Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is in contact with the FSB on these issues. He described to the RIA Novosti news service Pirumov’s detainment as “ a real shock for all of us.” The ministry stressed that in recent years restoration initiatives led by Deputy Minister Grigory Pirumov had "achieved significant success." The Culture Ministry’s press service added that the internal audit announced by Minister Vladimir Medinsky has been underway since March 18 and is expected to take several months

Rumors about Medinsky’s possible resignation have been swirling since the March 16th arrest of Pirumov. On March 28, 2016 Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refuted these allegations.  Medinsky chairs Russia’s Military History Society, which has a powerful influence over the interpretation of Russia’s cultural affairs.   He has also reportedly told UNESCO that Russia is ready to participate in both evaluation of Palmyra's condition and its restoration. 

Izborsk fortress immediately after restoration  © Hope Chenin
Palmyra Aftae Da’esh © Joseph Eid/AFP

In early April, Deputy Minister of Culture - theologian Alexander Zhuravsky was appointed to replace Mr. Pirumov.

The FSB said it hasn't been able yet to track down the missing funds.

By: Olla Birman 

August 22, 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015 - ,, No comments

Cultural Terrorism in Moscow: The Enemies of Classical Art in Russia and their Protectors

Article reprinted in its entirety with the consent of the author, Alexander Baunov, senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.  The original link to this article can be found here. 

On August 16 a group of ultra-conservative activists vandalized an art exhibition in Manege Square next to the Kremlin in Moscow. Shouting that the exhibition was offensive to Christianity, they smashed sculptures and ripped canvases by well-known Russian artists Vadim Sidur and Megasoma Mars.

What happened at Manege Square has been described as "disorderly conduct" and it may be prosecuted as such if the case comes to trial. But it is more appropriate to call it a terrorist attack by religious extremists, like the acts of cultural destruction carried out by ISIS in Palmyra, Nineveh or Mosul.
Alexander Baunov is a senior
associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center
 and editor in chief of Twitter: @BAUNOV
In Moscow, at first glance, the target of the wrath of the zealots was even more of a surprise than their actual behavior: they attacked classical Russian rather than modern art. Thirty years after his death, Vadim Sidur has become a classic, exhibited all over the world. The gallery at the Manege is a state museum. This seems to be have been part of the attackers' plan: a mainstream gallery in the center of the capital was an effective forum to air an extremist statement, demanding the government change its policies on culture.

The Russian government condemned the Manege vigilantes--after a brief pause. Prominent parliamentarian Konstantin Kosachev called the attack "a disgusting story." But as with the murder of liberal politician Boris Nemtsov in February, the attack on the art exhibition presents the government with a dilemma. When Nemtsov was killed, the government wavered between blaming enemies of the state like the dead man himself saying, “we are sorry for the loss, but he reaped what he sowed,” and condemning the murder and risking alienating its most fanatical supporters.

Russia's radical conservatives are becoming more brazen. There are attempts to censor Pushkin and calls to ban Tolstoy from the school curriculum because he was excommunicated, cover up John the Baptist or St. Sebastian below the waist (the Pushkin Museum beware!). 

Paradoxically, attacking the Vadim Sidur exhibition in Moscow under religious slogans, the believers of today attacked an exhibition of religious art that had great meaning for their co-religionists just one or two generations ago.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Christianity was persecuted in the Soviet Union, Sidur depicted Christian themes and scenes from the Gospels, such as "The Deposition from the Cross." Sidur's Christian contemporaries rejoiced in the fact that a modern artist was not turning out effigies of Lenin but was making modern Christian art.

Yet today's Orthodox Church reacted to the attack on Sidur in an extraordinary fashion. Vakhtang Kipshidze, spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchy, alleged -- entirely implausibly -- that Sidur's work was done on the orders of the Soviet government of the time. Another high-ranking Church official, Vsevolod Chaplin, condemned the attack but simultaneously said that Russian society had a problem with "the desecration of objects and symbols revered by the faithful." He then added, "Incidentally, it may have been no accident that some of these works were not allowed on public display during the Soviet era.”

Not only did a sculptor who could not be exhibited at the time because of his “pacifism”, “mysticism”, and religious imagery, incur the wrath of today's religious fundamentalists. Official Church spokesman of today referred back to Soviet-era practices when they discussed how Christian art should be treated.

An attack on an art exhibition is an attack on modernity, but the religious extremism on display both in Moscow and in the Middle East is, paradoxically, also an extreme form of modernism. Its perpetrators are not interested in antiquity but what can be termed "archaization," an artificial process of reconstructing the past anew to suit their image of the present.

It is not just extremists who feel this urge. Russians vaguely remember that President Barack Obama made a speech (it was last fall at the UN Generally Assembly), listing Russia as a global threat alongside ISIS. Many Russians joked that they were insulted to lose the "Most Terrible" status to the Ebola virus. We could not understand how Americans could think that we were worse than the sadists of ISIS. And yet we made it to the list of global threats for expressing sentiments similar to theirs -- something confirmed by the Manege attack.

Like many Muslims, many Russians are dissatisfied with their place in the modern world. It has not worked out for us in the present, so we seek sustenance in contradictory personalities and episodes from different historical periods. We both revere tsarist officers and take offense at the toppling of Lenin statues. We flaunt our religiosity and wax enthusiastic about the Soviet Union. Russian patriots feel good in the past, alongside Yury Gagarin, the Great Victory of 1945 and the empire stretching from Alaska to Warsaw -- and uncomfortable in the present.

Many of the world's Muslims harbor similar sentiments, harking back wistfully to the era of the Caliphate and feeling uneasy in the modern world. Religious fundamentalists, feeling insulted and threatened, conclude: “You ignored us and now you will shake in terror!” They try to compensate for their loss through destruction -- and end up killing their own culture and citizens. 

Unfortunately, the Russian state is playing the same game of artificial conservatism, of "It was better in the past than in the present." It tells people to accept the concepts of the Russian World (Russky Mir) or Novorossiya as something primordial, even though no one had even heard of them a year ago. Russians are told: accept what we concocted for you a year before and share this new identity, this cocktail of Orthodox Christianity, homophobia, hatred for the West, otherwise, you are bad Russians. It is as though the great tradition of Russian Europeans never existed, there were no Peter the Great, Pushkin, Kandinsky or celebrated Russian agnostics and atheists. 

The Russian authorities have cautiously condemned the pogrom at the Manege, but have not demonstrated that they are seriously committed to stopping it happen again. And we can understand why. As long as the state itself remains a force of archaism discontented with modernity, it will have a hard time stopping those who destroy statues or shred canvasses. The actions of the vandals, however extreme, reflect sentiments that are at the core of the current Russian ideology.