Their attempt to kickstart a cultural revolution in the Russian city of Perm may have come to naught but gallery owner Marat Guelman and Oleg Chirkunov, the former governor of the Perm region, are not giving up. Fed up of trying to bring contemporary art to the Russian provinces, the pair are now looking elsewhere. To France, to be precise.
Chirkunov has announced plans to transform his 17th century estate in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France into a contemporary art museum housing Russian and European art with curator Guelman overseeing the project. Writing on his Facebook page earlier this month, Chirkunov said his love for France was fostered at school when he was learning French. Writing about the estate, he said: “It’s a huge area, with gardens, rivers, waterfalls, woods and it was pretty much abandoned. I wanted to work with my head and my hands to sort everything out and also wanted to bring Russian art here. Perhaps it’s a utopia.”
Chirnukov’s decision to live in France for “at least six months of the year” has drawn sharp criticism from Russian politicians who have accused him of being unpatriotic. Boris Milgram, Chirkunov’s former deputy, weighed into the debate: “I like the idea in itself. It’s the same thing that Sergei Diaghilev did when he opened the Ballets Russes in Paris. I see in this project a grand patriotic design.”
As governor of Perm, Chirkunov hired a team of specialists, including Guelman, to rebrand Perm, a city immortalised in Chekhov’s Three Sisters as a provincial backwater that his protagonists were desperate to escape. Guelman oversaw the development of PERMM, the city’s landmark contemporary art museum, and also helped launch the the White Nights festival of culture in June. In 2012, Viktor Basargin, a Putin ally, took over as governor of Perm bringing an end to many of the sweeping changes across the city.