The Knight of Despair / Warrior of Beauty exhibition by Jan Fabre opened at the Hermitage on October 21 and featuring stuffed animals in weird poses and situations sparked hysteria in Russia. Shocked visitors, animal rights activists and even The Russian Christian Orthodox church called the event disgusting and inappropriate. They launched an Instagram campaign hashtagged #pozorermitazhu #позорэрмитажу, which can be translated in English as «Shame on you, Hermitage». The museum said it would not stop the exhibition.
The public outrage was caused not by Fabre’s use of stuffed animals, which is absolutely normal: for example, you can see dead animals at the scientific Zoological museum just across the Hermitage. The dissatisfaction emerged from the styles the animals are displayed in. One visitor was appalled by dogs hanging by wires from ceilings, another guest through the Instagram expressed her bad feelings with a dead cat laying on a sofa as if it’s alive. It’s not the art, the critics say, but kind of sadism and cruelty. Dogs and cats wearing carnival hats seem to have become the number one photo from the exhibition.
The hashtag #pozorermitazhu («Shame on you, Hermitage») has been used nearly 10,000 times, Instagram statistics shows, though some posts under this hashtag were written by the Hermitage supporters.
The reaction of the museum was very calm. The director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky said in his interview that the exhibition will last to April 2017 as planned. He also expressed pity for the fact that “the public proved undereducated”. The Hermitage even organized a special event to explain the gist of The Knight of Despair / Warrior of Beauty.
Andrey Mushkarev, Chairman of the Saint-Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development, noted that the negative reaction attracted additional visitors to the exhibition.
The controversy about Jan Fabre’s performance emerged amid growing pressure on arts and culture in Russia. The exhibition of famous American photographer Jock Sturges, Absence of Shame, was closed in Moscow in September this year after some politicians, bloggers, NGO as and authorities expressed ethic concerns.
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