Russia bars "provocative" art from Paris show

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian authorities have withdrawn several works of modern art from an exhibition due in France next week for being too “provocative”, including one of two policemen kissing and caressing each other’s buttocks.

Artists and experts said the move to pull 17 works from the exhibition was an act of state censorship -- something that went against the artists’ desire to display the diversity of modern-day Russian life.

The pictures, photographs and installations, brought together by Russia’s State Tretyakov Gallery, are due to be shown in the Maison Rouge exhibition hall in Paris as part of France’s “A Year of Russia”.

But officials said the 17 exhibits would bring disgrace on Russia and were a “political provocation” by the artists.

“If this exhibition appears there (in France), it will bring shame on Russia, and in this case all of us will bear full responsibility,” Russian media quoted Culture Minister Alexander Sokolov as telling a news conference.

He said “it is inadmissible ... to take all this pornography, kissing policemen and erotic pictures” to Paris.

Lidia Iovleva, deputy director general of the Tretyakov gallery, told Reuters: “To my regret, this is a sheer political provocation (by the artists), and a state-sponsored museum has no right to condone this. We are not a private gallery.”

The exhibition would have never left Russia, if the banned exhibits had not been thrown out on the insistence of the Federal Culture and Cinema Agency, she said.

The photograph of the two Russian policemen, in uniform, kissing and fondling each other in a birch-tree grove, was by an art group called Blue Noses. It is titled the “Era of Mercy”.

Slava Mizin, a co-founder of the group, dismissed the criticism as unfounded and “radical, lopsided thinking”.

“We did not mean something else, we wanted to show -- here’s an era of mercy coming after the harsh 1990s, and two people are kissing. Full stop,” the artist told Reuters.

“I admit there is something provocative in this. But if people just take it as pornography or eroticism, then it’s just silly in the end.”

Liberals say Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB agent, has trampled basic freedoms and backtracked on democracy.

Officials say that Putin’s Russia is far freer than the Soviet Union but democracy must not mean all-permissiveness.

In comments published in Vedomosti daily, culture expert Daniil Dondurei said even the culture minister’s personal opinion could now push museum workers across Russia to impose self-censorship.

“It’s his (minister’s) attempt to outline the future borders of state cultural policy,” he said. “It’s his attempt to erect new ideological barriers.”