Germany and Russia’s ‘calm’ disagreement over art

For over three years, Russian and German curators have worked closely with one another in the name of art, developing a breathtaking exhibition of works from the Bronze Age.
Their combined efforts for Bronze Age, Europe Without Borders, a title that can be understood in so many ways given the violent and confrontational history of the continent, highlights the importance and value of multinational collaboration.
If the show, which is being shown at St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, had lacked the authority afforded to it by bringing together academics and art experts in different countries, it would have been poorer, less complete and unable to fulfil its purpose.
Thankfully, politics didn’t matter when it came to devising the exhibition, which is comprised of over 1,700 artefacts that reveal “elements of bronze era culture from [the] Atlantic Ocean to the Urals within a large period of time”.
Political manipulation, mismanagement and misunderstanding, so to speak – and lucky for all with a vested interest in the arts – is postscript in this instance, although, as will be revealed, it is ongoing.
Germany and Russia’s respective heads of state, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, are so at odds with one another over this seminal exhibition that they felt inclined to “temporarily” put a hold on what was supposed to be rudimentary speeches at its opening.
This brief cessation emerged principally over a disagreement concerning some of the objects on display. Ms Merkel was originally going to use her time in front of the podium to ask for works of art looted from Germany by Soviet soldiers at the end of the second world war. In the end she opted for something altogether pacifying.
“We believe that the development of the Russian economy is of the greatest possible importance for German-Russian trade,” Ms Merkel told reporters, widening the conversation to their relationship at large.
“Germany wishes to support Russia in the process of opening its economy, of diversifying its economy. We want to be a good partner to you.”
Interestingly enough, Mr Putin responded in kind, at least publically, delivering the same cautious, non-incendiary dialogue that is usually evident, though the Russian president is not exactly shy about speaking his mind.
“I think this is a very sensitive question for civil societies in both countries,” he said with regards to the possible repatriation of the works of art.
“So if we want any progress, we should not blow the problem out of proportion but seek ways to solve it. Probably we should not start a discussion now because people will appear on the Russian side who would evaluate the damage done to our art during world war two.”
In typical political fashion, the whole spat, as the mass media has referred to this episode as, has not really progressed the debate surrounding the future of the artefacts in question. They have nicely sidestepped it, caused a bit of a minor stir and moved on with haste.
That is a good thing, at least for now. There’s art and culture to see.
Bronze Age, Europe Without Borders is at St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum until September 8th 2013.
Cadogan Tate has extensive experience in delivering bespoke storage solutions for all types of art.