′Diversity United′ on show in Moscow despite political hurdles | Arts | DW | 23.11.2021

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Arts

'Diversity United' on show in Moscow despite political hurdles

First shown in Berlin, the exhibition "Diversity United," showcasing European values was also planned for Russia — but politics came into play.

Artwork, Depictions of red human figures holding an empty sign.

Ekaterina Muromtseva's series 'Picket' part of the exhibition 'Diversity United' on show at the Tretyakov Gallery

The "Diversity United" exhibition has now opened its doors to the Russian public — and that is a cause for celebration for the international team organizing the event.

While the show was on display at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport from June to October 2021, it sparked a great deal of interest, attracting well over 50,000 visitors.

And yet it was feared that the works, whose content revolves around themes such as migration, freedom, resistance, would not be allowed to travel to Moscow as originally intended.

Diverse and united Europe

It is truly an extraordinary exhibition, and one of superlatives: composed of around 90 artists from 34 countries, showing some 400 works.

Renowned artists such as Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz are represented, as are Sejla Kameric, Gilbert & George, Olafur Eliasson, Monica Bonvicini, Katharina Sieverding and Boris Mikhailov. Around a third of the works were created specifically for the show.

A work of art illuminating in green letters the sentence 'It is of utmost importance that we repeat our mistakes as a reminder to future generations of the depths of our stupidity.'

This work by artist group Slaves and Tatars is titled 'Mystical Protest'

The lavish and costly "Diversity United" exhibition tackles a major subject: Europe. The curators have said they are searching "for the essence of the complex, fragile and changing project" that constitutes Europe.

Now, visitors to the show in Moscow can also delve into the subject.

"I am very happy and proud that our exhibition is being presented in the iconic rooms of the New Tretyakov Gallery," a premier venue of 20th-century art in Moscow, says Walter Smerling. The chairman of the Bonn, Germany-based Foundation for Art and Culture is responsible for organizing the huge show with a budget in the mid-seven-figure range. The exhibition opening in Moscow is "a symbol of an open and future-oriented society," he adds.

Likewise, the show is "an important sign of solidarity of the arts and cultural scene," which in today's "pandemic times, all the more important in view of the travel difficulties," Selfira Tregulova, general director of the Tretyakov Gallery told DW on the sidelines of the opening on November 22 in Moscow. 

Art scholar Tregulova said the current show recalls the large international dialogue exhibitions that took place in the 1980s and 1990s.

In this case, many of the works reflect on contemporary issues, such as Russian artist Ekaterina Muromtseva's huge watercolor series "Picketing" about protest culture. It features larger-than-life, blood-red figures, and calls for people to take a stand on resistance.

Originally, "Diversity United" was intended as a continuation of the major exhibition projects such as "Moscow-Berlin" and "Moscow-Paris." This time, too, there is a Moscow-Berlin-Paris axis.

At the beginning of the perestroika restructuring reforms in the 1980s, these exhibitions were an important sign of opening and a central experience for many Russians with contemporary artistic positions, says Tregulova. She now hopes that "Diversity United" will have a similar effect.

The challenges of the exhibition

Getting the exhibition up and running in Moscow was a major endeavor. One major hurdle, of course, has been the COVID pandemic. Another has been the increasingly harsh political climate in Russia.

Three heads of state had agreed to take on the patronage of "United Diversity": Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. After all, "Diversity United" was conceived as a European project on several levels. Not only were artists from a wide variety of countries to be represented to reflect "the artistic face of Europe," as the show is subtitled. Crucially, the idea was also that the exhibition would travel throughout Europe.

Gilbert & George artwork, two men dressed in red amid black-and-white masked figures.

British artist duo Gilbert & George show their work 'AHEM'

The opening planned for November 2020 in Moscow had to be canceled due to pandemic. The original second station — Berlin — stepped up and showed "Diversity United" first.

The opening in June 2021 was then overshadowed by a political controversy: Shortly before the kick-off, a number of German-Russian organizations belonging to the Petersburg Dialogue were declared undesirable in Russia. This forum, once founded by Vladimir Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, sees itself as a platform for cooperation between the civil societies of the two countries.

'Diversity United' aims to promote dialogue

At the time, the organizers emphasized that the attitude of the Russian government was unacceptable.

Now, the wording has changed: Art is to be understood as a "unique opportunity" to remain in exchange and, according to Smerling, "with the help of artists, to promote discussions that have not previously existed in Russia in this way — for example,

It is particularly important for Russia to use this exhibition to showcase Europe's diversity and diversity as something positive, says Sergey Fofanov, the show's Russian curator. "Russia is part of European culture and tradition. We must not reject each other, but seek dialogue. Only in this way will our common culture survive."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the opening of "Diversity United" in Berlin in June, praising the exhibition as "an expression of the self-confidence of art and artists in Europe."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, was not spotted at the show's opening in Moscow.

Watch video 05:14

Boundless: Diversity United in Berlin

 

The exhibition "Diversity United" is on display, and accompanied by a host of events, in Moscow from November 23, 2021-March 13, 2022. It will then travel on to Paris.

This article has been translated from German.