MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s top modern art award has gone to a collection of unashamedly patriotic works, but the artist was promptly jeered by hecklers who accused him of fascism.
Alexey Belyayev-Gintovt won the main Kandinsky prize, worth 40,000 euros ($52,800), for a series of canvases named “Motherland-Daughter,” featuring overt echoes of Russia’s Soviet communist past as well as its Orthodox Christian heritage.
Despite the criticism, art experts praised the competition for the freedom it gave Russian artists to portray a wide range of political views and be explicitly critical of its rulers.
“I have only one theme, and it is the motherland,” Belyayev-Gintovt told Reuters Television late on Wednesday after picking up his prize, which is in its second year and named after the Russian avant-garde artist Vasily Kandinsky.
“I will only focus on this and my art will always be about our great and beautiful motherland.”
Born in Moscow in 1965, he described his work as mixing traditional Russian symbols by combining the styles of Russian Orthodox icon painting and Soviet art.
He often features the color red. One of the winning pieces showed an enormous three-dimensional red star mounted on a swathe of gold.
The audience members who heckled his acceptance speech included last year’s prize winner, Anatoly Osmolovsky, who screamed “For shame!.”
He called the work “a mix of naive modernism and vulgarity.”
“There is no art here ... he’s a fascist,” Osmolovsky said.
Earlier, young men scuffled in the car park of the 19th century wine factory-turned-modern art museum where the ceremony took place, screaming “Down with fascists! Get out of Russia!.”
Despite the outbursts, the prize, sponsored by Germany’s Deutsche Bank and the Russian financial group IFD Capital, gave some artists a platform for diverse political art, some of it overtly critical of a lack of democracy in Russia.
Finalists’ works included an enormous Styrofoam throne bearing security cameras, and sewing pins stuck in rubber erasers making up an image of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s face.
“Historically, Russia has been political in its art and Russia has a history of politicizing,” said Joseph Backstein, organizer of the second Moscow art biennale.
He noted that the prize was awarded by an international jury and said it showed there could be freedom of expression in Russian art.
“The finalists today are following traditions of their country,” he said.
Nationalist groups, some of them extremely right-wing, have swelled in size across Russia since the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s, as Russia’s recent economic boom has fueled a more assertive foreign policy. Civil rights advocates say these groups have contributed to a rise in racial attacks.
A video installation presenting a futuristic Russia overrun by China, made by three artists called the PG Group, won another Kandinsky prize, for Media Project of the Year.
Diana Machulina was named Best Young Artist for “Labor,” a painted reproduction of a photograph of a 1985 Communist party leadership meeting including Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Editing by Kevin Liffey