After the UK government decided in July to officially withdraw its support for the UK-Russia Year of Culture, it is unclear whether the remaining events in the programme will be affected. These include the long-awaited Francis Bacon exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, which marks the end of the cultural exchange.
A spokeswoman for the UK government tells The Art Newspaper: “In light of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and continuing Russian support for the separatist destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, Her Majesty’s Government has withdrawn ministerial and senior official involvement in the Year of Culture.” The British Council, however, says it will continue to oversee the programme.
“Francis Bacon: the Process of Creation”, which is being organised independently of the British Council, is scheduled to run from 7 December to 8 March 2015. Key loans are due to come from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, which has promised all of its 13 works by Bacon. These include studies for portraits of Van Gogh and Pope Pius XII and several portraits of Robert and Lisa Sainsbury. Four loans have been agreed by the Tate, with archival material coming from the Bacon Studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. The idea is to draw on the Hermitage’s collection to present the artist in the context of earlier masters whom he admired, ranging from Rembrandt to Degas. The show is due to travel to Norwich next summer.
Before Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down on 17 July, Paul Greenhalgh, the director of the Sainsbury Centre, told us: “At this stage, the centre and the Hermitage are continuing with the preparatory organisation of the Bacon exhibition on the understanding that it will go ahead. We will let colleagues know if the situation changes.” Last month, Greenhalgh reiterated that this still stands; a further announcement is due to be made this month. The curator of the exhibition, Thierry Morel, says that the show is still “scheduled for December” and that some sponsorship has already been confirmed; a spokesman for the Hermitage also says that the show will go ahead.
Two UK-Russia shows that were originally due to open this month have been cancelled. These were the Young British Artists (YBAs) at the Ekaterina Foundation in Moscow and the Russian art collective AES+F at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. There are hopes that the YBA show may be revived.
Meanwhile, the Polish government has cancelled the Poland-Russia Year of Culture 2015, in protest over developments in Ukraine. A statement issued by the Polish foreign ministry said that the decision was made by the council of ministers on 23 July because of “the deepening Russian-Ukrainian conflict, including the tragic downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17”.
Moscow warns sponsor BP over sanctions
BP, the main sponsor of the UK-Russia Year of Culture, is facing the threat of seizure of its Russian investments. A source at the foreign ministry in Moscow told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that there would be retaliation against the UK if further European sanctions are imposed, pointedly adding that “BP and Shell have a lot of assets in Russia”. BP’s report to shareholders on 29 July warned that further Western sanctions “could have a material adverse impact” on its interests in Russia. The oil company is the founding sponsor of the UK-Russia Year of Culture. A spokesman for BP told us that he is “unaware of any changes” in its support for the cultural programme.