MANIFESTA 10 opened to the public yesterday on 28 June 2014, in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a location, St. Petersburg was considered a difficult choice by many, due to recent developments in the Ukraine and the country’s criminalisation of homosexuality. Although controversial Manifesta believes that engaging with Russia at this time is important and necessary.
The next 125 days will see MANIFESTA 10 presenting the art of our times, featuring some of the world’s most renowned contemporary artists, across several venues in the Hermitage Museum and at locations within the city of St. Petersburg. More than 500,000 people are expected to attend. In the lead up many new commissions have been created and artworks installed also respond to the encyclopedic collection and history of the State Hermitage Museum. Numerous artists have also responded to the sociopolitical context of contemporary Russia. With over 50 artists participating, notable projects include Thomas Hirschhorn’s fourteen-meter high installation, in which living spaces spill out into the inner courtyard of the new General Staff Building; Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s operatic ensemble of handkerchiefs on a huge scale proportional to the interiors of the new modern and contemporary wing; and Rineke Dijkstra’s video portrait of a young ballerina, which memorializes St. Petersburg’s culture of dance and gymnastics. Yasumasa Morimura pays special tribute to the history of the Hermitage by recreating scenes recorded by two artists who documented “the Hermitage’s wounds” during the siege of Leningrad.
MANIFESTA 10’s Chief Curator Kasper König, together with Prof. M. Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum and Hedwig Fijen, Director of Manifesta, announced the curatorial approach and the artists participating in MANIFESTA 10, and made statements on current political circumstances. The main objective of MANIFESTA 10 is to introduce contemporary art, with all its complexity and criticality, to the State Hermitage Museum. The Biennial is composed of the exhibition, which will be located in the General Staff Building and the Winter Palace, alongside a substantial public and education program. MANIFESTA 10 will reflect on the changes that have taken place within art and society since the fall of the Berlin Wall, presenting highly varied artists’ positions, and taking into consideration the current geo-political situation. Two-thirds of the exhibition will be located in the General Staff Building — the Hermitage’s newly renovated wing of modern and contemporary art — and one-third will be in the Winter Palace.
The Director of the Hermitage Prof. Piotrovsky has said: “Manifesta in St. Petersburg is a unique opportunity for audiences to broaden their ideas about contemporary art and its possibilities. It offers the opportunity for local and international people to come to St. Petersburg and engage with the program and dialogues. Preserving bridges and cultural connections is very important today, especially because the situation is not at all conducive to this.”
Hedwig Fijen commented: “Under Kasper König’s curatorial direction MANIFESTA 10 provides an inspiring and challenging exhibition and an extensive public and educational program of activities. As a nomadic European biennial we choose to operate within contested areas, outside the ‘safe haven’ of the ‘West,’ and do so because we believe art provides an alternative perspective and reflection on society. Manifesta stands for artistic independence and has a responsibility to art and artists and those who wish to engage with the context in which we situate ourselves. Our work is one of debate, negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy, that does not shy away from the conflicts of our time. At a time when everything tends to be read through a geo-political lens, art is there to provide complexity and nuance.”
A list of more than fifty-five international artists, with more than thirty-five specially commissioned artworks and projects, König commented: “MANIFESTA 10 will be a complex exhibition and project, with participants aiming to grapple with all the possibilities that art offers, and that approach the breadth of perspectives that it presents and opens up.
This exhibition aims to inspire discussion and raise questions, and I have no doubt that it will have an impact even after its closure in the autumn of 2014. The artists in this edition of Manifesta were chosen because they represent, and have helped develop, key strands in contemporary art in the West and in Russia. For this reason they are not easily categorized. In a museum as historically diverse as the Hermitage, it was only fitting to select a diverse and complex array of contemporary positions.” Among the group of participating international artists, Russian-born artists Vadim Fishkin, Elena Kovylina, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Timur Novikov, Ilya Orlov and Natasha Kraevskaya, Pavel Pepperstein, and Alexandra Sukhareva will contribute to MANIFESTA 10.
Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe (1969–2013) was a leading St. Petersburg-based drag performance artist, best known for his impersonations of prominent figures including Marilyn Monroe, after whom he was nicknamed. Visitors will also see videos from “Pirate TV,” an early Perestroika self-made TV series, founded in collaboration with Timur Novikov in 1989. Elena Kovylina will present her video installation Egalite, which comments on endangered democracy in Russia today and points to the many double standards in post-Soviet society.
Other participating artists will include Ukrainian-born Boris Mikhailov, one of the leading photographers from the former Soviet Union. For his new project for MANIFESTA 10 titled The Theater of War. Second Act, Time Out, Mikhailov visited Kiev’s Maidan Independence Square, the camp of Ukraine opposition. The works of three women painters Marlene Dumas, Nicole Eisenman, and Maria Lassnig, will be exhibited in the Henri Matisse rooms of the Winter Palace, while Matisse’s works will be relocated to the General Staff Building. Dumas (South Africa) has conceived a new series of portraits of notable cultural figures, whose achievements can be celebrated above their identification as Gay men. The resulting gallery will feature such icons as Alan Turing, Oscar Wilde, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Jean Genet, among others. Artist Tatzu Nishi (Japan) is renowned for transforming our experience of monuments, statues, and architectural details. Nishi will present a site-specific project in the Zapadina room of the Winter Palace, in which a domestic room, furnished in a typical, Russian style, will envelop one of the grand Winter Palace chandeliers. Visitors will be able to enter the sculpture and experience the domestication of the imperial interior setting. Thomas Hirschhorn (Switzerland) will create a new work Abschlag, in which a block of six, identically sized ‘living rooms,’ will be constructed in the General Staff Building. Reminiscent of communal apartments of the Soviet era, the cross-section will display a selection of constructivist paintings.