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Marat Gelman: The Art of Political Provocation  - A Story in Three Parts, with Epilog and a Reference
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Marat Gelman: The Art of Political Provocation - A Story in Three Parts, with Epilog and a Reference

Umělec 2005/2


Alena Boika | art and politics | en cs de

The First Moscow Biennale opened in Moscow. Revolution took place in Ukraine. In both cases a name of Marat Gelman, the only gallerist among policymakers and the only policymaker among gallerists, is mentioned. He spent several years in the labyrinth of high policy only slightly revealing his presence in art life. And now he is back. Exhibition-declaration Russia-2 was represented among the Moscow Biennale special projects. What is he in reality? A policymaker who uses art as a cover or a gallerist fond of political technology?

Part One: Gelman, Political Technology, and Orange Revolution

In August 2004, an occasion that agitated the whole art tusovka happened in Kyiv. Marat Gelman's gallery was ruined. The gallery allowed many contemporary Ukrainian artists to become famous, to exhibit and sell their works, and helped some of them move to Moscow. Exhibition South Russian Wave (Savadov and Senchenko, Golosy, Roitburd, Gnilitsky, Tsagolov, Khorovsky, etc.) led contemporary Ukrainian art out to the international stage. Before, there was a belief that there was nothing interesting except Moscow conceptualism on the territory of former Soviet Union.

… In the gallery windows were broken and Jews, Go to Moskalia!, a Ukrainian variant of Yankee, go home! – was written on the walls. Gallery's chief curator Natalia Filonenko was then in Moscow and was shocked as she learned about the situation from journalists, who phoned her asking to comment on the occasion. Back in Kyiv she had another shock when learned that most people were sure that the destruction had been initiated by Gelman himself. Among manifold rumors the following variants can be distinguished:

- Marat Gelman participated in the election campaign of Viktor Yanukovich (pro-Russian candidate); when his services were rejected he had to withdraw "maintaining dignity."

- Marat Gelman was on Yanukovich's side; when the latter was obviously defeated Gelman had to withdraw "maintaining dignity."

- Marat Gelman by experience gained during his previous activities as policymaker felt approaching danger in the person of revolutionary masses and backed with destruction of his gallery and had to withdraw for a while. (This is the official version of Marat Gelman who speaks about his intention to resume the work in spring).

A lot of interesting facts can be found in Live Journal, a territory of provocation and revelations, in which the public lively reacts to all existent events. At first, Marat refused to give any comments about the election campaign in Ukraine but began to spill the beans later. First, he published a photo Young People for Yanukovich with a commentary, "I can't help…" (2004-11-10 01:40:00 - Then, he demonstrated his relations with Russian Club, a project of Gleb Pavlovsky (Russian policymaker), which was a legalized interference of Moscow men into Ukrainian elections on the side of Yanukovich. (According to many Ukrainian experts in politics, Gellman's gallery fulfilled the same functions in Kyiv). Does a web page, on which discreditable information about preparation of Ukrainian elections looks very earnestly, still exist ( Marat Gelman denies categorically his connection to the campaign as policymaker and states that completely refused to participate in political activities. He again demonstrates his interest in art in general and in Ukrainian art in particular:
(December 1: 05:59 pm – for someone it is war, for someone it is…)
the gallery has long been working with Ukrainian artists. Savadov and Senchenko, Tistol, Gnilitsky, Roitburd, Kerestey, Makov, Tsagolov, Solomko, the Martynchiks, Mamsikov, deceased Golosy. It owns a lot of works. Yesterday, Yura Shabelnikov said, "Mara, Ukrainian art is going to become popular…" You know, he seems to be right.

This interest has never abated, though, which is proved by exhibit of a number of Ukrainian artists in Gelman's gallery in Moscow, by Gnilitsky's exhibition in January 2005, and by participation of many Ukrainians in project Russia-2.


"In 1995, when I began to actively throw myself from art to life, politics, media, I had a feeling that art sphere was interesting, intellectual but artificial. The world of art is incredibly important however very narrow and passions within it are not real. On the contrary, the world of politics is real, in which destinies, money, and history are made. So, to be a subject of history, that is a creator, you should choose this way. The politics turned out a serious and real affair. I regarded my going into politics as the move of a person who once received some universal experience and now tries to realize it in real life. It was so for some time. It finished a year ago, in December, when recent presidential elections showed that politics ceased to be real and interesting activity. It turned into a formal procedure striving after literary effect. There is no meaningful work in politics anymore. On the contrary, art is a sphere, in which it is possible to do something important today, something that will be demanded by society in general.

My return to art is concerned with changed situation. When the political machine turns into a road-roller, new people and ideas including those related to politics can only appear outside the politics. In such a way, say, appeared Andrey Sakharov and Vladimir Vysotsky, the personalities of political dimension. We will try to build a live context. The social geometry, which our power forms, gives new possibilities for art. We again have something to base ourselves on. Today, perspective and role of art in the society are very clear. The society longs for the past, for isolation. Contemporary art strives for the future, for the international context. Art can become a socium for those who do not fit in the frameworks offered by the power."

Part Two: Russia-2
So after his unsuccessful appearance on the Ukrainian political stage, Marat Gelman initiated a new art project, which was represented at the Moscow Biennale. It was widely covered in the media and caused enormous number of discrepant opinions right up to reference to the court from Orthodox believers who felt insulted by some works. The concept of the project looks extremely convincing. It is appeal to the position of artist in Putin's Russia, in which contemporary culture is not built into the power vertical. It is a demand of enlargement of vital space for creative work.
"It seems to me that the situation in Putin's Russia of today is absolutely unambiguous. To me, it is, first of all, concerned with the fact that the authorities in the process of construction of their famous vertical found out that they only can rule in the manner they do it now. Second, statuses of various kinds of activities became clear. In soviet period, a status of scientists or artists was never lower than status of factory director. The picture is absolutely different now. There is bureaucracy, there is bureaucratic business, there is politics, and nothing beside it. Everything else including journalism is dubious activity for the public. It also concerns hierarchy inside a person. I am father, forty-year-old man, atheist, citizen of Russia, gallerist. In today's Russia, it is believed that the most important thing is your civil, national, or religious identity; everything else is optional. It is different for me. Speaking in the form of anecdote, if someone says, "Citizens of Russia, to my right; men, to my left," I will go with the men, because my being a man is more important to me. Cultural identity is also thrown off the public attention. It is clearly expressed in integration of ministries of culture and information. That is independent cultural activity does not exist. In this situation and with distinct knowing of it we should elaborate modus agendi. We can try to collaborate with the power though in this case it is an absolutely wrong track. The present power is based on clan principles and does not need any outside collaborators. Every day, its need in people reduces progressively.
One more possibility is fight against the system. It also seems senseless as the fight demands resources in the form of political classes and support of comparatively wide masses. Today, the society backs the regime and political classes are destroyed. Besides we, people of art, represent absolute minority and thrusting our views on life on the majority is incorrect. So, we have no choice but to ignore the regime, to wait until it drains out. Especially since I am sure that the more successfully Vladimir Putin realizes his ideas of a new state construction, the sooner this machine breaks down. But for all that all efforts of opposition can hasten this not for a single moment. It is very simple to ignore the current state of affairs. I noticed long ago that Russia, in which my associates and I live, and Russia of president Putin are two different countries.
This is what the concept of Russia-2 based upon and, I believe, this will give birth to ideology of a new party."
Part Three: Between Politics and Art
It is quite obvious that in spite of the declared refusal to participate in politics, which, according to Gelman, "turned from male business into "pig farming," in which a person with ear-ring has nothing to do," his every art project has political implication. Furthermore, Russia-2 project would have been impossible out of political context. If there were no Putin and the power system, which he built in Russia-1, there would have been no situation of political provocation, which Gelman used so ably. It is eternal need for political diagonal, which the society once lost for a short time and now works for a new one. This is proved by the choice of Russian people who after exposes of early 90s, grief over millions of victims and horrors of the regime choose a KGB man, representative of the society ruled by censorship and bureaucratic hierarchy. Marat Gelman was among those who "made" Putin. He did not acknowledged his participation in the campaign Vote or You Will Lose of Boris Eltsin but does not denies his working as policymaker for the incumbent Russian president during five years.
- Marat, what is common between politics and art?

- The figure in the center. Politician and artist are two figures of a kind. They are united by egocentrism, idée fixe, and mission of propagation of some message. Both are public professions concerned with a clear stand. The fundamental difference between them lies in the idea of responsibility. This is where they cardinally separate. Artist responsible to the society is nonsense. Irresponsible politician is equal nonsense.

- Sounds like a diagnosis

- To some extent. They both should have some insanity, kind of exhibitionism. With the only difference, artist creates gestures, politician performs deeds. That is one is fatally irresponsible and another, on the contrary, assumes superhuman responsibility. A normal person should not assume such responsibility – responsibility for someone's life and death. You cannot tell politician who abates taxes, "Brother, it is trite. It was done before you so many times. You are not going to surprise anyone." As for artist, only authorship and innovation make sense. So the worlds, in which they live, are different. Art sphere is Looking Glass Land.

…Lately, there is only one customer – the Kremlin.

- You do not suit this customer or the customer does not suit you?

- New technologies do not suit me. You know, I have recently formulated this for myself. Meet of a wild boar is almost the same as pork. The process of hunt for boars differs sharply from pig farming. That is to say that political consulting used to be a hunt before. Since today, there are no other players in politics except the Kremlin, policy advisers have to work in an enclosure. This is absolutely different work, which needs different workers.

- Your leaving from political consulting reminds of commercial of some beer, "Nobody needs bottle-openers any more…"

- Yes, but we still have canned goods. In my case it is art. My position is invulnerable enough. The smaller political process is, the more space remains for art. As soon as Putin's Russia became so strictly outlined art got a platform to base on. The functions of art became much better defined. There is a chance to break through. Beside internal complicated process in the society there is also a formal aspect. Newspapers will not have information to write about. They cannot occupy all pages with Putin only. So, art gets a chance to be recognized by the society.

- Your two halves are not equal in value. In art you would never promote, say, artist Shilov. It would have been against your aesthetic views. In politics you are for greater spectrum. Hence, you could work for anyone?

- It is so. In art I am personally inside the professions. Here is my reputation. This is where I express myself. Political consulting is the sphere, in which I only delegate my skills. I believe that in political consulting it is not necessary and it is even harmful to interpret yourself as a subject of history. Politicians are responsible people because everyone wants to know who performed a deed and it is not important who invented a deed. My work in politics is service.

Epilogue: at the Cradle of Orange Revolution

… At the height of Ukrainian events Marat Gelman publishes a link to sensational materials, in which famous artist and designer Andrey Logvin relates how the art image of the Orange Revolution was developed. No comments:

Close of year, everybody publicizes and boasts of different "results." So I began to think what the major event in our small studio was. What was it to say about, "Yes, we did it!" You will laugh but I chose Orange Revolution in Ukraine. In 2001-2002, Serega Logvin and I worked at the election in Kyiv. We pushed some new political party to the Rada (Ukrainian Parliament). Among some rather sensible, as I believe, ideas there were so-called orange project. Unfortunately, the project was rejected. They did it wrong as the latest events proved. Good God, no, I will not contend that rascal policymakers lifted our idea. However it would be such a pleasure to show three-year-old files to everyone and say, "Ось, дивiться, якi ми були розумнi, нехай тепер кажуть, що Ющенко москалi не спiдмогнули!" ("Look how clever we were. Who will say now that Muscovites did not help Yushchenko!")

Document. Sent to Customer on November 29, 2001

Logvin to Ogurtsov. Project Apelsin (Orange)

Project aim is to introduction of color-notional markers of the campaign and political movement into masses; creation of information-bearing occasions; formation of image and style.

The project is based upon use of orange (hot yellow) color and various orange objects to attract everyone's attention, cause positive emotions, create feelings of festival, joy, energy, novelty, and new opinion.


1. On December 29, by the TV finale of young politicians' contest, Orange New-Year Tree is mounted in Kyiv (picture el/street.jpg). This is a "real" two-meter New-Year Tree made of big washed carrots on a wire skeleton. It is decorated with lots of oranges. It is a very picturesque thing (poster sketches (el1.jpg и el2.jpg). Orange New-Year Tree bears a transparency, "Happy New Year! Happy New Color!"

Without guards people will undoubtedly steal everything. Let them do it. This can be turned into show in the form of happening. It is important that the New-Year Tree will attract a crowd and make TV news. It will be perfect if news about the New-Year Tree will be shown simultaneously with coverage of contest finale.

The same Orange New-Year Tree (of smaller size), posters with the New-Year Tree, and oranges with stickers as independent objects can be used for visual decoration of the contest finale. The oranges, for example, can be used for count of voices received by rivals. Other ideas concerning visual decoration of the contest are described in the annex Orange Tie.

An orange with a sticker can be used as gift and advertising object. It can be both a decorative element and a gift for (children, for example) during different campaign events and meetings with voters. Depending on situation there may be different stickers (oranj/hand.jpg). Variants of inscription on stickers:

1. Справждне майбутне! (Real future!)
2. Вироблено в Украiнi. Вироблено для Украiни. (Made in Ukraine. Made for Ukraine)
3. New Ukrainian Political Fruit
4. Taste politics!
5. Spring will come!... (signature)
6. See you in spring!... (signature)
7. Hot yellow greetings from…
8. Take an orange

2. New Year.
Repetition of the Orange New-Year Tree action is possible in several big cities during New Year celebrations. Media coverage is needed. It would be good to insert this New-Year Tree in some TV holiday show along with…

3. Congress
At the party congress orange balloons, posters with the New-Year Tree, and party uniform are used (ded.jpg, ded2.jpg).

4. Old New Year (East - Center).
Local electoral structures disseminate a card Orange New-Year Glass Ball Hatches Out From a Violet Ball. The inscription on the card says, "Завжди новий!" (Always new!) (see sketch shariki.jpg). In addition, there should be a short text, a sort of micro-leaflet. It is necessary to estimate whether it is expedient and possible to have billboards featuring the same slogan and image. It is possible to make a short reel (5-7 seconds) on the basis of the same picture: A violet ball swings, vibrates, and bursts. A bigger orange ball appears from it.

5. Tatiana's Day (Student's Day)
By this day, a card and/or poster Fashionable Colors of a Season to be made and distributed: stylish boy with yellow and blue hair wearing orange glasses and girl with orange hair wearing yellow and blue glasses (See sketch peaple.jpg, peaple2). The photo for posters will be in stylistics of a real western commercial (e.g. Martini). Slogan is underway.

6. St. Valentine's Day/8 March
I Love You cards with names to be produced by these holidays (see Card Project). The cards are marked with orange heart. Besides, among other names on the cards we suggested adding a slightly accentuated name Ukraine.

Along with the cards starting from St. Valentine's Day until the elections a gift bangle (see photo heart.jpg) will be distributed during meetings with voters, festivals, concerts, and so on. It will be accompanied with congratulations from candidates and the movement as a whole.

Additional Comments:

TV reels showing orange objects very well build in the offered concept. In particular, it is possible to complete a script (it was submitted earlier) about adventures of the orange varenik (Ukrainian national food like ravioli made of pastry with all sorts of fillings such as berries, mashed potato, curds, and so on). It will be a funny and very cheap reel. We will only need several fragments of an old movie from film library and some animation.

One more idea is mass use of orange stickers including during the "closing day action." They can be stick to any objects both yours and your opponent's. The problem is production of a sticker that looks like a stroke of paint-brush is rather expensive. They only can be on the basis of transparent scotch tape. In addition to touches it is possible to make paper orange round stickers from 2 to 10 cm in diameter. They are much cheaper and very handy as a hundred can be placed in a pocket.


Viktor Pelevin (famous Russian writer, "Holy Book of Werewolf")

…Work of policymaker lies in ability to substitute democracy in the bud with its simulation by request of oligarchies that replace each other. A policymaker analyzes public opinion in order to find out what exactly people want. Then he gives it back to them in the form of lies. In this situation any opposition ideology would be impossible. All its slogans will be immediately caught by oligarchy like business caught the image of Che Guevara. This is why European ultras concluded that they should shoot not politicians but policymakers. I think that there is no need to shoot anyone. Five-foot dog approaches policymakers from the other direction. The matter is their production is instinctively rejected by people as it happened with communist ideology in past century. Why did Bush win in America? Just because his opponent was a political golem. Bush lost all debates and then won the elections. He simply lent more credibility because did not stink so much of political technology.

The article was prepared on the basis of interview, Internet, and other sources


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