Russian president Vladimir Putin does not — repeat, not — have a sense of humor. Or, for that matter, anything resembling respect for artistic expression. Earlier this week, as Olympians around the world continue to debate whether or not to boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin presumably authorized a police raid of a St. Petersburg gallery. Four paintings by Konstantin Altunin — part of the small, privately owned Museum of Power’s first exhibition, The Rulers — were confiscated. The gallery was shut down and the artist has wisely fled Russia, seeking political asylum in France.
Of course, as anyone who remembers the far right’s brutish attacks on the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) in the US can attest, trying to crack down on personably objectionable art is like trying to herd cats. Ultimately the art, whether indecent or not, gets plenty more play as a result, especially in our Internet era. And so a painting of Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s fraudulently elected prime minister, as two lingerie-clad women is being seen by a lot of people right now.
Surely Putin knows of this phenomenon, given his PR fiasco with Pussy Riot that shone a spotlight on his bullyish ways and revealed the ugly deformity of his Napoleon complex for all to see. Maybe he’s just mad because he’s the chunky one in the background.
Other works include The Erotic Dreams of Deputy Mizulina — which depicts Yelena Mizulia, a supporter of Russia’s abhorrent anti-gay legislation that Putin gleefully signed into law, in a state of writhing self-pleasure — and a painting of Vitaly Milonov, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and the chief architect of those laws, against a rainbow background.
You know, we always thought of Putin as more of a steroid-injecting, dungeon-dwelling, shrieking harness queen. But drag suits him, too.