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Moscow’s Most Controversial Artwork Reaches New York

Marat Guelman Collection Opens at the Chelsea Museum

New York - March 5, 2008 - After a scandal in Moscow that piqued curiosity around the world, works from the controversial Sots Art show have made their way across the Atlantic as part of a new exhibition curated by Russian gallerist Marat Guelman.

Thaw: Russian Art From Glasnost to the Present will open at the Chelsea Art Museum on March 7. The exhibition comes on the heels of a bizarre flap in late 2007, when Russia’s culture minister stopped a handful of contemporary artworks from being displayed in Paris as part of a state-sponsored exhibition titled Sots Art: Political Art in Russia. The most controversial of these censored pieces was The Era of Mercy, an image of two male police officers kissing and fondling each other’s buttocks. Guelman, along with co-curator Juan Puentes of the White Box Gallery, has made the work one of the centerpieces of Thaw.

If the Kremlin’s reaction to Sots Art was a chilling throwback to the Soviet Union, Moscow’s art scene today is anything but. The city’s rise to prominence as an art capital in recent years is thanks in no small part to Guelman himself. It was he who, in the early days of glasnost, when Russia had no internal art market, cobbled together a career as an art manager, broker, curator and collector, pushing a circle of dynamic, unsung artists to the forefront. His gallery, founded in 1990, is now the key point of contact between Russia and the global art market.

“As an institution, a gallery should not have any geographical or national boundaries,” says Guelman, who is in New York for the opening. Thaw acts as a kind of primer for Americans who know nothing about post-Soviet art, or know only about the Sots Art debacle—the event was a big enough news item that RUSSIA! Magazine felt comfortable parodying The Era of Mercy on the cover of its most recent issue, with cosmonauts in place of policemen. If this kind of cultural currency is an example of how far Russian art has come since perestroika, then Guelman’s show is an opportunity for people to take a look down the long road it has traveled.


The Marat Guelman Gallery is one of the first and most famous galleries to appear in the Post-Soviet Russia. It was founded in 1990, a year before the Soviet Union collapsed. Just as a few other forward-thinking institutions that emerged in the 90s, the Gallery not only provided exhibition space, but also presented itself as an intellectual workshop, developing ideas and concepts for the art of today's Russia. For further information visit


RUSSIA! is a quarterly English-language publication with an independent and irreverent U.S.-based take on the people, trends, and ideas of modern Russia. It is published by PR Group and edited by Michael Idov (New York Magazine, Slate). Most recently, RUSSIA! made headlines for instituting the Rolling R, a humorous award for "General Excellence in Acting Russian," and bestowing it on Viggo Mortensen for his role in Eastern Promises.


Marat Guelman, curator
Ilya Merenzon, publisher, Russia! magazine
718 755 6092

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