Russian prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether an installation by the British artists, Jake and Dinos Chapman, exhibited at St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum is in breach of the country’s extremism laws.
The End of Fun installation involves hundreds of small figurines, some dressed in Nazi uniforms. Elsewhere there is religious imagery. In one scene Adolf Hitler is present; in another, scientist Stephen Hawking speaks with Adam and Eve.
Groups of Orthodox Christians, Cossacks, and other social conservatives have complained about the exhibition. Anything seen as mocking the Church can be subject to strict punishment in Russia, as the jailing of the punk group Pussy Riot for a protest performance inside Russia’s main cathedral earlier this year showed.
Russia’s law on extremism is notoriously flexible, and has often been applied in cases that appear political, while not applied in cases where real extremism appears present, such as a recent nationalist rally when thousands of Russians marched through Moscow wearing Nazi or other far-right insignia. Artists who have satirised religion or used Christian imagery in their work have also run afoul of the law in the past.
The Hermitage Museum’s press service said that inspectors from the city prosecutor’s office had come to the exhibit after receiving the complaints. Museum employees showed the officials the work and tried to explain various meanings. The Hermitage sent a letter to the prosecutor later asking for the check to be curtailed as it was affecting the work of the museum. It is unclear whether the authorities plan to pursue the case further.
In the run up to the opening of the exhibit, the Hermitage had issued a number of press releases preparing the Russian public for something the like of which they had never seen before, but Russian art critics actually found the display rather tame.
“The images of hell created by the Chapmans look simply like an alphabet of contemporary visual culture,” wrote critic Kira Dolinina in her review for the daily Kommersant. The radical nature of the brothers’ art had been “greatly exaggerated”, the newspaper wrote.