Russia won't censor penis art prize

2011-04-13 17:09
Moscow - Russia's culture ministry on Wednesday said it was disgusted by the awarding of a top art prize for a phallus painted on a bridge but vowed to stay out of the controversy as it was not an "organ of censorship".

The ministry insisted on Wednesday it would not resort to Soviet-style interference in the choice of winner of the Innovation prize, established with its approval, even though it finds the phallus "disgusting".

Street art group Voina, or War, won the $14 000 Innovation prize last week for the phallus which it painted on a drawbridge opposite the headquarters of the FSB security service in Saint Petersburg last summer.


The ministry said it found the work, titled A cock captured by the FSB, "provocative, hooligan-like and disgusting", but said that interfering in the jury decision would be a "great blow to developing civil society".

"The culture ministry is not an organ of censorship," the ministry said. "We would not like to go back to the unfortunate experience of relations between the authorities and contemporary art in Khrushchev's day."

Khrushchev famously swore at abstract artists for not being able to draw as he viewed an exhibition in Moscow in 1962, and ordered all the artists to be deprived of official status and wages.

The ministry hit out after the public chamber, an officially appointed panel of high-profile figures who advise the president, slammed the agency as "unprofessional" for allowing the award to Voina to go ahead.

Awaiting trial

In a statement on Tuesday it called the prize "a slap in the face for common sense" and said the ministry should have intervened at the nomination stage or pulled out as a backer of the prize, awarded by a state-owned gallery.

"We see such a position by the culture ministry and the minister personally as not befitting and unprofessional from an organ of state power," it said in a thundering statement.

The prize is awarded by the State Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow, which was established by the culture ministry, although the ministry said it did not provide the prize money.

Several of the Voina artists are awaiting trial for hooliganism, for which they could serve up to five years in jail, for another art performance in which they overturned police cars with officers inside.