Exhibition organisers in South Korea have turned down a request from the Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts to send back works of Russian avant-garde art before the scheduled 17 April closing date. This is the latest example of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting cultural exchange.
The news was first reported by the Korea Times, which, along with its sister paper the Hankook Ilbo, is hosting Kandinsky, Malevich & Russian Avant-Garde: Revolutionary Art at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. The exhibition opened on 31 December.
According to the Korea Times, an official from the Yekaterinburg museum sent an email to the Hankook Ilbo on 15 March asking that the show be closed early by 3 April and that the 75 pieces—ranging from works by Natalia Goncharova to Olga Rozanova, which were loaned to the newspaper from Russia—be returned due to “the difficult political situation”.
Earlier in March, St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum was scrambling to get works back from Italy, but then backed down. Russia’s ministry of culture had ordered that loans be returned to Russia as travel bans and sanctions kicked in and state guarantees of protection from seizure began to seem tenuous.
“The Hankook Ilbo opposed the request, saying that the exhibition will remain open, as previously agreed, until 17 April. We will adhere to the contract and run the exhibition until the promised date," a company official told the Korea Times.
In an email to The Art Newspaper, the Yekaterinburg museum confirmed that “negotiations had been held with the organisers” on changing the dates “due to possible problems with transporting exhibition pieces and the logistics of their return” but an agreement was reached to stick with the original dates. The exhibition includes 63 works from Yekaterinburg, including Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism (1915) and Wassily Kandinsky’s Improvisation No. 217. Grey Oval (1917) with the rest coming from museums in Khabarovsk, Krasnoyarsk and Nizhny Novgorod.
Hankook Ilbo and the Korea Times did not respond to requests for comment. The exhibition’s art director, Kim Young-ho, a professor at the School of Fine Art, College of Arts, Chung-ang University said by email that the works will be returned “by aircraft after consultation with the Yekaterinburg museum”. There are “no direct flights from Seoul to Moscow until the end of April.” Any possible ground transportation from South Korea has its own obstacles: “we can’t pass North Korean ground.”
“Korean people agree that politics and art activity should be treated separately. So we will continue the exhibition,” the professor added.