Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin steps down as Guggenheim administrator

For 20 years, Vladimir O. Potanin, one of Russia’s wealthiest men, was a key supporter of the Guggenheim Museum, serving as a trustee an...


For 20 years, Vladimir O. Potanin, one of Russia’s wealthiest men, was a key supporter of the Guggenheim Museum, serving as a trustee and major benefactor while his foundation sponsored exhibits including the current exhibition in New York on the Russian artist. Wassily Kandinsky.

Corn the museum said on Wednesday that Mr Potanin was resigning as one of its directors, a post he had held since 2002. He gave no reason for the decision, but the museum’s statement referred to the war in Ukraine , and Mr. Potanin has been closely associated with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

“Vladimir Potanin has informed the board of directors of his decision to step down as director with immediate effect,” the Guggenheim said in a statement. “The Guggenheim accepts this decision and thanks Mr. Potanin for his service to the Museum and his support of the exhibition, conservation and education programs. The Guggenheim strongly condemns the Russian invasion and unprovoked war against the government and people of Ukraine.

Mr Potanin is the latest in a line of Russian artists and donors whose positions on the war and positions in the cultural world have been challenged by outrage over the Russian invasion grows.

On Tuesday, Petr Aven, another prominent Russian businessman, resigned as a trustee of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which said it was returning its donation for an ongoing exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast”. Mr. Aven had recently been subject to sanctions by the European Union, which described it as “one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs”.

Valery Gergiev, the Russian maestro and prominent supporter of Mr. Putin, was removed this week from his position as conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra after refusing to denounce Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

In London, the Tate was asked about its ties to another prominent Russian oligarch, Viktor F. Vekselbergwho is listed as an honorary member of the Tate Foundation in recognition of donations he made from 2013 to 2015. He and his company have been under US sanctions since 2018.

Leaders of arts organizations, many of whom have embraced the generosity of Russian donors and the artistry of its performers, have had to wrestle in recent days with the question of how to respond to the range of its cultural figures. Some have been staunch supporters of Mr. Putin. Others thrived in his midst and remained silent on the issue of war in Ukraine.

“It’s complicated,” said John MacIntosh, managing partner of SeaChange Capital Partners, an organization that supports nonprofits. He said nonprofits could not always be expected to fully check “from square one everyone from whom they receive donations”. But they must recognize that it creates a bond and that they implicitly provide at least some kind of imprimatur to the giver.

He recalled that similar questions had arisen over money given to cultural institutions by the Sackler family, whose donations, once welcomed, were later welcomed. growing unease in the art world as the family’s pharmaceutical interests were tied to the opioid crisis.

“There are times when we have to reflect on the connections we have and sometimes separate ourselves from people who have supported us,” Mr. MacIntosh said.

George Suttles, executive director of the Commonfund Institute, the research and education arm of Commonfund, which manages the assets of around 50 cultural institutions nationwide, said he was struck by how quickly some cultural institutions had severed their ties with Russian artists and donors. Arts organizations need to put systems in place that can provide a “consistent way to understand and assess the cost-benefit analysis of severing ties” with an associate, he said.

“Part of what we’re seeing is that cultural institutions don’t have that infrastructure for in-depth analysis or investigation,” he added. “They were shaken.”

Mr. Potanin, a billionaire who made his fortune in banking and natural resources, including a large stake in one of the world’s largest nickel producers, has never been sanctioned. But like many wealthy men who made their fortunes over the past decades and kept them while Mr Putin ruled Russia, he is closely associated with the Russian president. He was among a group of prominent oligarchs who met Mr Putin in the Kremlin last week, days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He did not comment on Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

A representative for Mr. Potanin’s foundation did not immediately return a request for comment.

Mr. Potanin also donated millions of dollars to the Kennedy Center in Washington, where his name is inscribed on a wall. The center used some of the money donated by Mr. Potanin to set up a meeting space known as “Russian living roomwhich was created and designed by notable Russian artists and featured works by Valery Koshlyakov.

“This is a complicated problem, and we are actively evaluating the best way to solve it in the short and long term,” Brendan Padgett, a Kennedy Center spokesperson, said of his association with Mr. Potanin.

At the Guggenheim, Mr. Potanin also had endowed a conservation scholarship named in 2019. The museum said it “no longer has a named Potanin Conservation Fellowship,” without giving details.

Mr. Potanin’s relationship with the museum took on great significance in 2005 when his foundation helped fund an 800-year-old study of Russian art, from icons to 19th-century paintings, called simply “Russia!” at the Guggenheim. Mr Putin spoke at the opening in New York.

Over the past two decades, Russian money has given a huge boost to Western arts organizations, where Russian philanthropists have often used art to promote a positive image of their homeland.

In its support of the Kennedy Center, Mr. Potanin’s foundation gave $450,000 to fund Russian programming, with the last donation taking place in 2016, the center said. His company Interros donated $6.45 million in 2011, including $1.45 million for the Russian Lounge.

Alina Polyakova, of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington and adjunct professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said accepting money from individuals or businesses close to Mr. Putin posed an increased reputational risk to museums and other institutions as more entities associated with the Russian government likely face more criticism or are added to sanctions lists.

While Mr. Putin’s intentions may not have been clear a decade ago, when many organizations started taking money from the oligarchs, now, she said, they “are clear”.

In New York, there have also been spillovers for Russian artists. Last week, Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra released Mr. Gergiev and the Russian pianist Denis Matsuev of a series of concerts planned because of the two men’s ties to Mr Putin.

Over the weekend, Peter Gelb, chief executive of the Metropolitan Opera, said the institution would not engage with performers or other institutions that have expressed support for Mr. Putin until the fighting in Ukraine stops and peace is restored.

Superstar soprano Anna Netrebko, who has links to Mr Putin, is due to appear at the Met in Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ from April 30. Ms Netrebko tried to distance herself from the invasion, posting a statement on social media saying she was “opposed to this war”.

The Metropolitan Opera has made no announcement regarding Ms. Netrebko’s planned appearances this spring, but Mr. Gelb said in an interview on Tuesday that the Met “stands by its position that artists who support Putin will not be permitted to perform at the Met”.

Asked about Ms Netrebko’s statement opposing the war, Mr Gelb said: “In the case of someone who is so closely associated with Putin, denouncing the war is not enough.

Javier C. Hernández contributed reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin steps down as Guggenheim administrator
Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin steps down as Guggenheim administrator
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