MOSCOW/ST. PETERSBURG: A museum director says an artist whose paintings depicted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women’s undergarments has fled the country.
The director of St. Petersburg’s Museum of Power, Tatiana Titova, said Wednesday that Konstantin Altunin left for France and was planning to request asylum there.
Authorities removed four of Altunin’s satirical depictions of Russian politicians Monday and shut down the exhibition.
Earlier Wednesday, Russian police said they had raided the exhibition and confiscated the paintings.
Police said four paintings were confiscated and the exhibition in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, which is set to host world leaders for the G-20 summit next month, was closed down.
One of the paintings confiscated shows Putin playing with Medvedev’s hair. He is wearing a strappy nightie, while Medvedev has cleavage bursting out of a bra and is wearing knickers.
“We received information from a citizen that the images in the museum broke the law. Police confiscated four paintings and currently experts are examining them,” police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said.
The exhibition made explicit references to a controversial law recently passed by Putin banning promotion of homosexuality among minors, although police did not specify the legal grounds for its closure.
The law, which critics says can be used to shut down any gay rights event, has prompted a chorus of international protest and British actor Stephen Fry this month called for Russia to be deprived of the right to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year.
Police carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles arrived at the small privately owned Museum of Power, which opened this summer, its owner Alexander Donskoi told AFP.
Police accused its creators of extremism, a criminal offense that carries more serious charges than the anti-gay law, Donskoi said.
“We are accused of extremism. Police recommended us not to make a noise about this incident ahead of the G-20, but it is scandalous, art has nothing to do with politics,” Donskoi said.
The artist Altunin left Russia in fear of being arrested after the show’s closure, Donskoi said.
“After hearing that police were waiting at his home, Konstantin bought a ticket for Denmark and and as of Wednesday he is in France,” Donskoi said.
One of the other paintings that were confiscated showed one of the anti-gay law’s most outspoken backers, St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, in front of the rainbow flag of the international Gay Pride movement.
Milonov accompanied the police who raided the exhibition on the city’s central shopping street Nevsky Prospekt, Donskoi said.
“After visiting the exhibition a few days ago, Milonov came yesterday evening with the police. He is behind the ban on the exhibition,” he said.
Milonov on Petersburg Echo radio dismissed the works of art as “tasteless, at the same level as a yob from a vocational college who scribbles in a toilet at a bus stop.”
But the curator for contemporary art at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg said Milonov was overstepping his powers in comments to AFP.
“Lawmaker Milonov has the right to criticize the exhibition as a visitor, but he should not express himself as if he was a prosecutor,” Alexander Borovsky said.
The exhibition, which was titled “Leaders,” also included images of Soviet leaders Stalin and Lenin, as well as a painting showing Putin with a halo.
Donskoi has also opened private museums of erotic art in Moscow and St. Petersburg.