Cold War on the cultural front

   |  26 May 2011  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Los Angeles, 26 May 2011, Art Media Agency (AMA).

According to the Art Newspaper, LACMA may have become the most recent casualty of the cultural cold war between the United States and Russia.

The conflict was sparked by an American court’s ruling in favour of Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish association that is demanding the restitution of religious manuscripts seized during the Bolshevik revolution and after the Second World War.  The Russian reaction has been hostile – the authorities have refused to comply and have forbidden Russian museums to lend works to American institutions.  They apparently fear that the pieces could be seized to enforce the return of the religious manuscripts.

The first museum to fall victim to the dispute was the Houston Museum of Natural History, which had to postpone “Treasures from the Hermitage:  Russia’s Crown Hewels”, originally scheduled to open on 20 May.  A loan of thirty-seven icons by the Andrei Rublev Museum in Moscow to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton was also cancelled.  So far, the Met has been the only American institution in a position to even the score: after Russia refused to loan works by Cezanne for the Met’s recent exhibition, “Card Player”, the New York museum announced that it would no longer be lending its Dior pieces to the State Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

Faced with an escalating cultural war, the American authorities decided to intervene and announced that Chabad has affirmed that it would not attempt to seize Russian works or “disrupt in any manner the non-profit exchange of art and cultural objects between the Russian and American people.”

On 18 May, Chabad express the same sentiment even more explicitly in a communiqué, stating that the thirty-eight works on display at the “Gifts of Sultan” exhibition opening on 5 May at LACMA would not be seized.

The LACMA exhibition will thus continue as planned, according to the museum spokesman.  “Gifts of the Sultan” will show at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in October before setting off on an as yet unconfirmed travelling exhibition to other American cities.

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