Too close to Putin? Institutions vet artists, uncomfortably.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Too close to Putin? Institutions vet artists, uncomfortably.
by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- In Canada, an acclaimed 20-year-old Russian pianist’s concert was canceled amid concerns about his silence on the invasion of Ukraine. The music director of an orchestra in Toulouse, France — who is also chief conductor at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow — was instructed to clarify his position on the war before his next appearance. In New York, Anna Netrebko, one of opera’s biggest stars, saw her reign at the Metropolitan Opera end after she declined to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As global condemnation of Russia’s attack on Ukraine grows, cultural institutions have moved with surprising speed to put pressure on Russian artists to distance themselves from Putin, a collision of art and politics that is forcing organizations to confront questions about free speech and whether they should be policing artists’ views.

Institutions are demanding that artists who have supported Putin in the past issue clear condemnations of him and his invasion as a prerequisite for performing. Others are checking their rosters and poring over social media posts to ensure Russian performers have not made contentious statements about the war. The Polish National Opera has gone so far as to drop a production of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov,” one of the greatest Russian operas, to express “solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

The tensions pose a dilemma for cultural institutions and those who support them. Many have long tried to stay above the fray of current events, and have a deep belief in the role the arts can play in bridging divides. Now, arts administrators, who have scant geopolitical expertise, find themselves in the midst of one of the most politically charged issues in recent decades, with little in the way of experience to draw on.

“We’re facing a totally new situation,” said Andreas Homoki, artistic director of the Zurich Opera. “Politics was never on our mind like this before.”

Experts warn that the pressure to take a tough stance against Russian artists risks ending decades of cultural exchange.

“The more we antagonize, the more we cut off, the more we ban, the more we censor and the more we have this xenophobic reaction, the more we play into Putin’s hands,” said Simon Morrison, a professor of music at Princeton who studies Russia. “We render each side into a crude cartoon.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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