Contemporary Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson has put a stop to his exhibition Santa Barbara that was taking place in the newly-opened GEC-2 contemporary art museum in Moscow, Russia, RÚV reports. Kjartan says there was no question that packing up the exhibition was the right thing to do after Russia invaded Ukraine last Thursday. Ragnar is an internationally renowned artist, having exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Tate Modern, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among other places.
“It’s not possible to exhibit this piece when this horror has begun,” Ragnar stated. “The piece is about the beginning of the Russia that came to be after the Soviet Union. And that Russia ended [last Thursday]. Now it’s just become a full-blown fascist state.”
Ragnar’s piece Santa Barbara is named after the US soap opera that started being broadcast in Russia one week after the fall of the Soviet Union. The exhibition recreates the series one episode at a time under the direction of Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir. A team of crew and actors had recreated one episode from the show each day since the beginning of December, until the decision to stop was made last week. The exhibition was originally supposed to run for an additional two weeks.
Ragnar says Russian artists have told him of being censored or imprisoned due to their art. “It’s just been an incredible experience to make art in this situation, where it’s almost like being in a thriller,” Ragnar stated. “You meet all kinds of people that have been put in prison, experienced bomb threats, censorship and I don’t know what else.”
A New York Times article from December describes Russian artist Maria V. Alyokhina’s criticism of the GEC-2 grand opening as “hosting a feast during a plague,” a reference to a play by Alexander Pushkin. “It’s really cool what they are doing, I really like it. It’s just, we have reality also, not only ‘Santa Barbara,’” Alyokhina said, implying the arts centre was ignoring Russia’s political reality. Ragnar is also quoted in the article as saying: “Many things can be criticized in this country, but we cannot look away from the fact that the Russian culture is completely awesome.”