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Russia, Germany and France join forces for 'incomparable' travelling show of contemporary European art

Exhibition showing "unique slice" of art from Europe will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War

Anri Sala's Suspended (Sky Blue, 2008) © Anri Sala. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth and Marian Goodman Gallery. Diversity United

A major exhibition bringing together around 200 works by 81 artists from 35 countries is billed as an artistic response to divisive forces 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and with Brexit looming. The show Diversity United is being organised by the Bonn-based Foundation for Art and Culture and Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery, where it will open on 11 November 2020 (until 21 February 2021).

It also comes with political backing: the Russian president Vladimir Putin, the German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the French President Emmanuel Macron have all signed on as patrons, organisers say. The idea grew out of the Petersburger Dialog, a forum founded by Putin and the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has faced criticism for representing Russian state energy companies. Diversity United will move on from Moscow to Berlin and Paris (venues have yet to be determined).

Zelfira Tregulova, the director of the Tretyakov, said “it’s hard for me to even recall something of comparable scale,” at a news conference on Friday. “This exhibition will present a totally unique slice of Europe’s contemporary art, moreover Europe not just in the sense of the European Union, but Europe in a much broader sense of the word,” she said.

Anselm Kiefer's Winterreise (2015) © Anselm Kiefer

Artists listed as participants include stalwarts such as Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, as well as representatives of a younger pan-European generation such as Zhanna Kadyrova from Ukraine, Olafur Eliasson from Denmark, and the Slavs and Tatars collective. The artists will either loan recent works or create new ones, with some museum loans if necessary.

Walter Smerling, the chairman of the Foundation for Art and Culture, brought “Deutschland 8—German Art in China” to Beijing in 2017, drawing over 650,000 visitors. The success of that exhibition, he said, made it possible to raise the bar. “There are political problems, but art unites people and builds bridges,” he told reporters.

Slavs and Tatars's Mystical Protest (2011). Installation view at Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, 2016 Photo: Bartosz Górka. Diversity United

Putin’s special envoy on international cultural cooperation, Mikhail Shvydkoy, said that the exhibition is especially important since it will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the starting point of modern European history.

A team of Russian and European curators led by Smerling and Tregulova is working on Diversity United, including Simon Baker (Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris); Faina Balakhovskaya of the Tretyakov; Camille Morineau (AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions, Paris); Peter Weibel (ZKM Karlsruhe); and Pontus Kyander, a writer and curator from Helskini.

“It’s really an act of trust with each curator that has been invited to take part in this selection,” said Kyander. “I thought "how on earth are we going to work this out?"—so many people and the challenge of defining European art. And of course there will never be such a definition, but we have Europe as a sort of common ground physically," he added.

The cost of the exhibition was not announced, but the Lars Windhorst Foundation, Daimler, the German clothing retailer New Yorker, and Meridian Capital are listed as sponsors.