Kulik images impounded as ‘pornography’ at Fiac

Russian gallery directors handcuffed by police, but case dropped


French police seized a number of works by the Ukrainian performance artist Oleg Kulik on the stand of Moscow’s XL gallery during Fiac (Foire international d’art contemporain), the leading contemporary art fair, held in the Grand Palais, Paris, on 23-26 October (see report p73).

The police were acting on a complaint of pornography brought by the French customs against photographs from the 1990s depicting Kulik performances, sometimes naked and sometimes simulating sexual acts with animals. Kulik is well known for his performances as a dog, notably I Bite America and America Bites Me in 1997 at Deitch Projects in New York, when he spent two weeks living in a heavily secured dog cage in the gallery.

While it is not illegal in France to show “zoophilia” (sex with animals), article 227-4 of the penal code states that it is illegal to show “violent or pornographic images…which could be seen by minors”. The French customs had seen the Kulik images on their arrival in France and informed the public prosecutor.

“The police didn’t know which ones to take, so finally they took all the ones showing Kulik naked,” XL gallery’s director Sergei Khripun told the French newspaper Le Monde. He and co-director Elena Selina were taken to the local police station and handcuffed to a bench before being released a few hours later. Fiac’s director Martin Bethenod stayed with them and served as interpreter.

Mr Khripun and Ms Selina have now returned to Russia. “There is no case against them and they are not being investigated,” Mr Bethenod told The Art Newspaper. The photo-graphs in question, some of which had already been sold, have now been given for safekeeping to Fiac. “I have them under lock and key and am awaiting the magistrate’s decision as to what to do with them,” said Mr Bethenod.