On 26 August 2015, two people, a man and a woman, vandalised an art exhibition in Manège, an art exhibition hall in Manezhny Dvor in Moscow which has a history of controversy.
This is Moscow Manège where the USSR Communist Party Secretary General Nikita Khruschov back in 1962 lambasted artists for their ‘degenerating art’. 80 years later, contemporary artists have once again come under attack. This time by people who identify themselves as ‘Russian orthodox activists’.
The assault at the exhibition ‘Sculptures we don’t see’ which occurred in the end of August 2015 was not the first one. The same exhibition had already been assaulted on 14 August – on the day of its opening. That day the attackers were led by Dmitry Tsorionov, a person who has gained ill fame under the nickname of Enteo for staging numerous protests against contemporary art which he denounces as blasphemy.
According to the Manège media spokesperson Elena Karneeva who I interviewed on phone, the group led by Enteo had come to the exhibition that day and started a brawl with the organisers, demanding that the exhibition be closed down. Then they threw off four works by Vadim Sidur, damaging them.
Vadim Sidur is one of the most prominent Soviet avant-garde artists who was often referred to as the ‘Russian Henry Moore’. A veteran of World War II, Vadim Sidur created many monuments dedicated to its victims. He had only one exhibition in Moscow during his lifetime, as he was more recognised in the West. However, with perestroika, his art was given status as Russian national heritage. As of now, vandals as Enteo’s mob are trying to test the limits of a new ideology of Russian autocracy.
According to Elena Karneeva, the attackers were removed from the art exhibition by the police. The organisers of the exhibition immediately reported the accident to the police demanding an investigation to be launched. The damaged works were sent to undergo an examination by technical and art experts. According to Karneeva, the experts of Grabar Centre have already confirmed the value of the damaged art works by Sidur. It is expected that the prosecutor’s office will make a decision whether to launch an investigation after it has received the estimates of the incurred financial loss as a result of the physical damages.
Mikhail Fedotov, the chair of the Council on Human Rights and Democracy at the Russian President’s Office, immediately reacted to the news by comparing the vandalism by Enteo and his followers with the ISIS destruction of art monuments.
Yaroslav Nilov, the head of the Russian Duma committee on public associations and religious groups, demanded that the prosecutors hold a thorough checking of the activities by the ‘God’s Will’ association which Enteo leads.
Instead of keeping a lower profile, Dmitry Enteo attacked Nilov, threatening that they would demand his resignation due to his ‘lack of proficiency’. Mikhail Fedotov shared Nilov’s fate as Enteo attacked him as well, stating that the chair of the presidential council had allowed ‘an extremist statement’ which, in the view of Enteo, was evidence that Fedotov “hates Jesus Christ, Christianity and the values of our civilization.”
As of the time of the new attack at the exhibition in Manège, there had been no news on the criminal inquiry being launched into activities by Enteo and his group. On the contrary, already two days after the initial assault, God’s Will activists staged a rally at the Manège claiming that the exhibits ‘insulted their religious feelings’.
To all appearances, Dmitry Enteo and members of the God’s Will association act as if they are untouchables, prepared to continue their attacks under the disguise of ‘protection of religious feelings’.
When asked about Enteo’s possible backing from the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexey Sochnev, a journalist with Russian Planet who carried out an intensive inquiry into activities of groups like Enteo’s, stated that, “Being a fanatic, [Enteo] would never act on his own. Definitely, he had asked some priest for a blessing. Even the reaction of the Orthodox Church’s official spokesperson, Vladimir Legoyda, in the aftermath of the pogrom in the Manège, speaks for the tacit approval of such vandalism,” Sochnev explained.
In-between the two attacks at Sidur’s and other LeSS group artists, Vladimir Legoyda stated that “believers should defend their values within the legal framework”. RIA Novosti quoted Legoyda as saying, “I am not familiar with the exhibition in the Manège. Therefore, it is difficult for me to tell if there is any infringement of the law from the side of their organisers. This is an issue of special legal assessment which is required as much as legal assessment of activities by Mr Tsorionov and his comrades.”
Alexey Sochnev compares the activities and structure of Enteo’s activists to such of organised groups of football fans. He explains, “Any so-called hooligan ‘firm’ has their leader and some kind of ‘first team’. In any ‘firm’, there are people responsible for financing, young guys taking the errands and doing some dirty work, and there are so-called first-liners. With regard to Enteo and his group, there is what some people see as an ‘Russian Orthodox Church group’ and there are their detractors. There is money and there are professionals who deal with information. Over a long period, they didn’t have either ‘scouts’ or ‘first-liners’. But these have started to appear now.”
Sochnev tells, “Enteo is not doing anything new. He is repeating what another ideologist of the confrontation of the ‘sacred’ and ‘diabolical’ initiated many years ago. Kirill Frolov and his Association of Orthodox Experts were the first to start campaigning against the ‘devilry’ but Dmitry Tsorionov / Enteo is a lot more aggressive.”
“Enteo is dreaming about becoming the leader of a ‘hooligan firm’, but prospects of his group, which is made of up to four people, are limited. The ideology of standing up the ‘devilry’ have a lot more efficient fighters, such as the Cossacks or bikers.”
The reactions from Russian Orthodox priests to the incident in the Manège varies. While some of the church officials are indirectly defending Enteo and his gang, there are also voices which state that such actions in defense of the church are harmful.
Information was distributed that allegedly the confessor of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, was the one who instructed the actions of the God’s Will association. But Father Iliy Nozdrin stated that this was a lie, and that Enteo has been referring to his permissions without any grounds on numerous occasions before. The statement was also sent out via social media by Ilya Kuzmenkov, a chief editor of the Orthodox Radio station.
Even the church spokesperson Vladimir Legoyda on his Facebook page allowed himself to be straightforward in his criticism, posting the following statement: “If ‘Orthodox activists’ understand that it is not permitted to follow ‘punk prayers’ stunts, they will definitely become less active, but a lot more Christian.”
Meanwhile, there is no information whether a criminal case is being instituted. The state seems not to be interested in protecting pieces of art which are state property. In 2014, Enteo and his mob attacked the exhibition ‘Censorship-Shlu-ha-ha’ held by gallerist Marat Guelman in Moscow Vinzavod. An installation by Alexey Knedlyakovskiy and Lusine Janyan were damaged. Enteo got away with it. Marat Guelma left Russia soon after the incident, moving his base into one of the Balkan states.
» The Guardian – 18 August 2015:
Rightwing Russian activists attack Moscow art exhibition
Conservative Christian group takes offence over sculpture show depicting naked Christ and heads of John the Baptist. The Moscow Times reports
» Meduza – 17 August 2015:
Orthodox Christian activists vandalize ‘blasphemous’ Soviet art exhibition
A representative of Moscow’s Manege exhibition centre has disclosed that four pieces of art were damaged in an attack staged by Orthodox Christian activists.