In a surprising reversal, Russian authorities have decided to allow Avdei Ter-Oganyans controversial painting "Radical Abstractionism, No. 8" to appear in a show of Russian contemporary art at the Louvre, Le Monde reports. However, in yet another new twist, Ter-Oganyan has now announced his refusal to participate in the show, citing the Russian government's failure to meet his demands for immunity for exiled artist and filmmaker Oleg Mavromatti.
The piece in question depicts a black rectangle on a red background with a small white circle and text that reads, "This work urges you to commit an attack on statesman V. V. Putin in order to end his state and political activities." The Russian government — which has been working with French officials and institutions on this and other events as part of a special cultural collaboration called the France-Russia Year — had as of yesterday blocked the painting from appearing in the group exhibition.
It is not known what led Russian authorities to change their position, but the Louvre had declared the imbroglio an "embarrassment" and had been in talks with the Russian government to try to resolve the situation. Following the banning of Ter-Oganyan’s work, seven of the 15 artists in the show had announced their decision to stage a boycott. The Louvre said in a statement that the "Counterpoint" exhibition would go on as planned, from October 14 to January 31, "with the entirety of artists and works that we invited for this event."
But now that Russia has agreed to let the painting be shown, Ter-Oganyan has posted an open letter on a Russian art blog denying permission to exhibit the painting: "I did not give [gallerist] Marat Guelman written permission to exhibit these works in this show, and despite the fact that he is the owner, the Louvre does not have the right to exhibit them without my permission." When his work was banned, Ter-Oganyan had posted an open letter to exhibition curator Marie-Laure Bernadac in which he expressed concern for the plight of artist and filmmaker Oleg Mavromatti, who, like Ter-Oganyan himself, has been living in exile to avoid prosecution in Russia for "inciting national and religious hatred" through his work. A month ago, Russia refused to reissue Mavromatti's passport, citing his appearance on a list of Russia's most-wanted criminals, and the artist now faces extradition to Moscow. Expressing a desire to bring the focus back to the pressing political issues, Ter-Oganyan decries making "a fetish of the images" while "the life of a man is at stake!" Demanding that all involved "stop acting like potato heads," he urges his fellow artists to maintain their boycott of the show until Mavromatti's situation is resolved.
With the political stakes rising rapidly, it is still unknown what shape the exhibition will finally take when it opens on October 14.