The Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky best known for nailing his scrotum to Red Square and sewing up his lips, in protest to government censorship, has been banned from the competition for Russia’s top art prize, the ‘Innovatsiya’ (Innovation). This has prompted criticism of censorship from the art community and several resignations from the selection committee and curators has followed.
Mr Pavlensky had been nominated in the visual art category for this leading state-sponsored competition for his performance work titled Threat: Lubyanka’s Burning Door. In this piece he sets fire to the entrance of the Federal Security Service (FSB the current KGB) building in Moscow. He was arrested in November 2015 for the act and is being tried in absentia in St Petersburg for an earlier piece. Pavlensky is on remand at Moscow’s Serbsky Centre for a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. This is expected to take a number of weeks.
Dimitri Ozverkov, the head of the contemporary art department at St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum withdrew from the selection committee along with eight other judges who have called for the award to be cancelled. Ozerkov wrote on facebook; “It’s obvious: today’s de jure cancellation of Innovatsiya’s main category due to Pavlensky’s disqualification signifies his de facto victory.” Anna Tolstova, who nominated Pavlensky in the first place and also quit, wrote on her Facebook page: “The Innovatsiya Prize is awarded not by a prosecutor but by the expert community, and I don’t feel obligated to agree with censorship and become part of the repressive machinery of the state.”