Monday, October 17, 2011

ArtTraveler accuses Russian curator of 'intellectual hooliganism' for stealing interview for 4th Moscow propaganda

From left: Leonid Nikolaev, Oleg Vorotinikov and Natalia Sokol

“The Russian totalitarian state threw a snatch of $2 million petrodollars to curators and artists of the 4th Moscow Biennale that was created to improve the image of the Russian right-wing authorities in the eyes of the West.” Alexei Plutser-Sarno, Voina Group chief media artist

The Arrest, art from the Free Voina website

Voina on 14 October announces all charges dropped against Vorotnikov and Nikolaev for criminal hooliganism over "Palace Revolution," cop car tipping action. See, Free Voina website.

At first blush, the Voina war of words looks like a bunch of anarchist art pranksters who hate Putin´s Russia—and for valid reasons—but now act out a nasty family feud, not uncommon in the history of anarchism.

So why should we care?

Because the 4th Moscow Biennale’s Voina “factions” argument is fiction. 

As we know, curators are the gatekeepers and can make or break an artist or group.

Little did I know that on 14 October I would threaten legal action against a Russian curator, the ZHIR Gallery and the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art for stealing my intellectual property on 13 October, the unpublished interview with Tanya (Tatiana) Volkova.

Here´s what happened.

Volkova sent me answers to my written questions on 13 October at about 3 p.m. Spanish time for a story I planned writing about her role as curator in this propaganda war that sends a dark cloud over the 4th Moscow show that ends 30 October.

On the morning of 14 October, I decided to learn more about the ZHIR Gallery, which is named co-sponsor of the Volkova-curated and much-promoted Media Impact: International Festival of Activist Art of the 4th Moscow.

I popped in on the ZHIR Gallery's official website. 

Flashing in front of me in bright blue headlines I saw my interview with Volkova that she e-mailed me a few hours before that I owned and intended using in a story.

The headline and introduction to the interview with Volkova on the ZHIR site positioned me as impliedly endorsing her answers, stating that ArtTraveler has now "clarified" Voina´s attacks on Volkova and the 4th Moscow.

The stolen ZHIR ArtTraveler interview was dated 14 October.

I made it clear ArtTraveler is a protected name. I never consented to such devious and unethical conduct.

114.24 КБ
"Dick Captured by the KGB" won Voina Group the 2011 Russian contemporary asrt Innovation award
Intellectual Hooliganism

For Volkova, this kind of intellectual hooliganism appears to flow naturally.

I demanded she immediately remove the interview from the ZHIR website.

She did.

Confirming compliance with my demand, Volkova said the online ZHIR site is “her personal blog,” impliedly justifying her theft.

ZHIR Gallery´s site is clotted with anti-Voina Group rhetoric.

But it turns out this is not “her personal blog.”

She may curate and ghost write its contents but there´s a plethora of other Russian art establishment players, including commercial sponsors, revealed as part of ZHIR. 

ZHIR is part of the 4th Moscow.

And it may be part of something much bigger and perhaps menacing.

Why would Volkova either leak or steal my interview trying to pre-empt an ArtTraveler story by illegally featuring it in ZHIR?

I began to connect the dots.

Canadian Peter (Pytor) Verzilov and his wife Nadezhda (Nady) Tolokonnikova, who are not original founders of Voina Group, folded themselves into the Russian contemporary art establishment after a bitter parting from Voina in 2009 in Moscow.

Most the active Voina, now in St. Petersburg, are Muscovites. Voina was born in Moscow and based there from 2007 to 2009.

Wikipedia does not name Verzilov or Tolokonnikova as founding members of Voina. Instead, it names as founders Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalia Sokol.

A doctored image of Putin
Vladimir Putin as L. Brezhnev (c) Moscow Times 30 Sept. 2011

The mysterious ZHIR Gallery

ZHIR Gallery is no gallery unless you re-invent the word. Curators are adept at practicing verbal magic.

In this Voina propaganda war, it could be a police sting operation. Who knows for sure?

There´s nothing to see or buy or display except rhetoric in the ZHIR Gallery and a handful of reader´s comments.

ZHIR Gallery is named co-sponsor of the 4th Moscow´s Media Impact: International Festival of Activist Art that includes more than 50 art activist groups or individuals.

In the ZHIR Gallery blog list of activist art participants, we find “Voina.” Not “Voina, Moscow fraction [sic]” as stated in the 4th Moscow´s official website catalogue.

There is something wrong with this picture.

I think I could alone qualify as a “group” at the 4th Moscow as long as I claimed a split personality.

ZHIR Gallery may be nothing more than part of an ongoing charade by Putin’s arts apparatchiks to induce the Kremlin Kuratorium to cast a hologram on the world, an illusion as Voina Group ideologist Alexei Plutser-Sarno said at the top of this blog post.

"Notes from the Russian Underground" Photograph by Stefan van Draske (2011)

The mercurial Canadian Peter Verzilov

Oddly, even bad PR is good for Verlizov, which is consistent with what his Voina detractors said about him in the Rudnev interview.

After posting the exclusive interview among Russian philosopher and cultural expert Vadim Rudnev and Voina members in St. Petersburg on 13 October, Verzilov the same day e-mailed me his reaction to it. (He´s totally fluent in English, having grown up in Toronto).

He wrote: “Cool post!” and nothing more.

He apparently liked it and didn´t deny detailed accusations against him and wife Nady when they were active in Voina.

“What to make of that?” I asked myself.

The Rudnev interview impaled the pair of Voina imposters with detailed accounts of their complicity with police or adroit disappearances when police arrived at the scene of Voina´s actions. 

And also, stupid stunts drawing attention from authorities before the action started, fouling filming of some happenings.

Arguably, Verlizov impliedly adopts the unsworn testimony of Voina activists in the Rudnev interview by his terse “Cool post!” comment. 

In an earlier post in this series, however, he generally denied wrongdoing and told his side of the story.

Go figure.

"Wash Your Dirty Money With My Art" by Janos Sugar at the Ludwig Museum, Budapest Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

This developing story isn´t about anarchists failing to legally protect the “Voina Group” brand. (To invoke legal infrastructure is anarchistic blasphemy.)

Nor is it about a family breakup, a nasty divorce, although the war of words and detailed intrigues and “Noises Off”-like capers make an entertaining read.

Curators pander to political correctness

It´s about the curators’ complicity in political correctness with the arts establishment and government organs.

We are living in the age of massive multi-media propaganda orchestrated by a handful of mega-rich and powerful right-wing (think Wall Street) protagonists.

These Rupert Murdochs operate hugely effective brainwashing and money making machines.

Rupert Murdoch

I know. I worked for one of them as a reporter for three years (2000 - 2003) in south Florida. 

The Business Journals chain of 41 print and online newspapers is owned by a couple of brothers living in New York. The pair also own a number of upscale magazines.

The Business Journals coerced journalists to censor stories, not write others, pandering to advertisers.

In 2003, the South Florida Business Journal sent me packing (I was terminated from employment.) after nine months of emotional abuse for my continued criticism of their culture of censorship and pandering to the advertising dollar, including fraudulently inflating circulation numbers so they could charge more for ads.

That´s when I became the story, not the journalist writing it in a Miami whistle-blowing lawsuit. You can read the story, called “Sold Out” by Broward-Palm Beach New Times investigative reporter, Bob Norman.

These mega media merchants of mainstream capitalism often beat neo-fascist drums for the T-Party whose political minions have recently confiscated or condemned art as politically incorrect as newly elected governors of Wisconsin and Maine.

The T-Party continues gaining political traction and more political offices. It  now threatens to seize the White House in 2012.

That´s the velvet version.

In Hungary, autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban turned contemporary art upside down, the first time since Communist rule ended, by creating what I called the “Orban Art Circle” in an ArtTraveler story.

And now it´s the Kremlin Kuratorium engaged in another deception.

In the US, right-wing media (Fox News) started flourishing during the GW Bush years. Fox a couple years ago called Barack Obama a “racist” who “hates while people.”

At one point it´s estimated about 40% of Americans thought Obama was not born in the United States but Kenya. (Doesn´t say allot for our educational system, does it?)

Even the New York Times and Washington Post confessed each was duped by the Bush administration in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, a continuing horror story triggered by government and media sleeping together.

Many members of the US Congress owe their allegiance to these media giants who promote fear, a terrorist-in-every-tree type of mania and histrionics. (Think Germany 1932.)

Political correctness and repressive forces of the right are moving to silence or neutralize dissent.

In the case of Voina gone underground, it´s a velvet attack through confusion and collusion at the 4th Moscow.

Voina Group as Russia´s Ai Weiwei

Voina Group sees itself as Russia´s Ai Weiwei.

Both employed performance art to caustically and openly campaign against government corruption and controls over freedom of expression.

One in a series of Ai Weiwei´s photographs aimed at citadels and symbols of authority and control
Ai Weiwei and two of Voina´s activists served about four months in prison, pre-trial detention.

One remains under house arrest in Beijing; the others have gone underground in St. Petersburg.
This isn´t about art in a vacuum.

It´s about art activism and in-your-face political dissent and reactive state repression.

This is our reality.

Hungarian artistic repression & the “Orban Art Circle”

I returned from six weeks in Hungary this summer having witnessed first hand how intimate these right-wing connections become at the highest levels of governments.

One event involved the U.S. Republican Party and its T-Party backers and Viktor Orban using art as political theatre, which I will discuss later.

The other, a faux but huge exhibition of claimed Hungarian contemporary art, showed 14 June - 4 July in Beijing that created scandal at home. 

There was no catalogue. 

This was a huge exercise in bi-lateral political correctness.

Having interviewed contemporary art curators and artists during the Art on Lake show in Budapest, I took the scandal global collaborating with Beijing-based contemporary artist and academic, Alessandro Rolandi.
Alessandro Rolandi

Hungarian curators and artists were livid that an unknown Budapest gallery owner would curate the show that included many artists in his gallery´s stable and showed nothing provocative.

It was worth forgetting, Rolandi wrote after seeing the show in the flesh, writing an exclusive ArtTraveler review after the controversial exhibition.

All for the sake of political comity (Or is it dark comedy?) between China and Hungary.

In August 2012, China  will reciprocate with a mammoth show of its contemporary art in Budapest.

Mr. Orban, tear down this statue!

On 29 June at Freedom Square in the shadows of the Soviet War Memorial commemorating the Red Army's liberation of Hungary, Prime Minister Orban, joined by former GW Bush desciple Condolezza Rice (ex-U.S. Secretary of State) plus a handful of visiting Tea-Party Republicans and cronies, one I thought dead, a kind of ghost of Watergate, ex-U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese (age 79).

All held hands and spoke prayers of thanks to the man they universally credit as smashing down the Iron Curtain with a single bellowing blow of rhetoric:

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  

They unveiled a remarkable work of art, a bigger than life bronze statue of Ronald Reagan. A bust of Reagan already adorns Washington Square in Budapest next to George Washington.

Istvan Mate´s statue of Ronald Regan Photo by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Only a week before the dead president´s 100th birthday unveiling ceremony, the mayor of Budapest renamed a park, "Elvis Presley Park."

Hungarian maestro sculptor Istvan Mate created the work commissioned by a Hungarian non-profit along with Reagan lovers in the United States.

The likeness was exacting, life-like, as though any moment, Reagan would take a child in each hand and walk through the Budapest plaza humming a tune.

"Walkling with Reagan" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

It was more than political stagecraft. It forms part of a pattern.

Orban pushed through a media watchdog law in January which effectively puts his team of censors into the news rooms. He told his party congress this summer he thinks freedom of expression is important but the "reputation of Hungary is more important."

A well known Hungarian curator told me, “It´s harder now to be an arts journalist in Hungary than it was before the political change (under Communist rule).”

Why should I be surprised that Tania Volkova stole my interview and misappropriated my protected brand, ArtTraveler, scooping me on my own story? (I was, incidentally.)

This is not only about Russia, Hungary or China or the constant media brainwashing in the United States and elsewhere.

In our context it is about the art establishment, curators and ego-centric artists colluding actively or passively with an insidious process of pacifying political dissent.

I call it undermining democracy and practicing political correctness.

It is about governments and rich and powerful forces working together, influencing how contemporary art curators should play the game of political correctness.

Islamic art and design at Granada´s Alhambra, photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)
Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler (TM)

Visit Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpure or mosaics workshops. See: and

Contact me about arts happenings: or call (34) 951 067 703 or from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349.

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