The artist Joan Fontcuberta has accused the Science Museum of censoring his work to placate the Russian government. This is a story in the new issue of Source, out today.
Joan Fontcuberta is a distinguished artist and winner of the 2013 Hasselblad Award. His solo exhibition at the Media Space, 'Stranger than Fiction' opened at the end of July. Among his works is a series called 'Sputnik' that elaborately fabricates a Russian space mission crewed by someone resembling the artist himself. The Science Museum has a planned exhibition 'Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age' that depends on loans from Russia. Fontcuberta says that sensitivity about this planned exhibition led the Museum to censor his show: ‘I was told that because of delicate loan negotiations with the Russian government… the Media Museum direction decided not to include that project to avoid offending them. End of discussion.’ Fontcuberta was also told that ‘Yuri Gagarin’s daughter – an important officer at Hermitage Museum – disliked deeply my Sputnik series’ (she is in fact Director of the Kremlin Museum).
Asked for a response to the artist’s allegations the Media Space Press Officer Simon Thompson said, ‘I can’t comment on conversations between yourself and the artist… Greg [Greg Hobson the exhibition’s curator] wanted to present a handful of Fontcuberta’s works that are conceptually independent yet thematically complementary and decided to focus on those that dealt with the natural and spiritual worlds. While Sputnik didn't fit this narrative (moreover, a major exhibition on cosmonautics was already planned), it does still appear in Fontcuberta’s exhibition publication’.
This takes place against a backdrop of, on the one hand, increasing tension between the UK and Russian governments including mounting sanctions, and on the other, an ongoing UK-Russia year of culture that has seen a series of high profile exhibitions including a Malevich exhibition at the Tate Gallery and a James Bond exhibition in Moscow among many other events. Fontcuberta remarked that he had tried to negotiate with the Museum saying ‘with the Ukranian crisis, my fictional narrative piece about a lost Soviet cosmonaut was going to be a minor problem in those eventual negotiations’ but to no effect. Sardonically he remarks ‘Sputnik has accumulated quite a few funny anecdotes like this’.
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