Artists’ studios in Moscow seized, union says

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The city has been cracking down on subsidised workspaces

VN Blinov, Arshakuni Zaven Workshop, 1974

Moscow’s artists are being summarily kicked out of their government-provided studios and workshops, the artist union says, despite earlier promises that their free leases would be renewed through 2025. The Moscow Artists Union has now petitioned the city’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, to stop the seizure of their spaces, our sister paper The Art Newspaper Russia reports.

In 2000, the then-mayor Yuri Luzhkov issued a directive to the Department of City Property to transfer properties to artist groups to be used as creative studios for 25 years, free of charge. Among the organisations that benefitted from the scheme were the Moscow Artists Union, the Creative Union of Artists of Russia, the Russian Union of Artists, the Union of Moscow Architects and the Moscow Union of Designers. The programme also granted discounts on heating, electricity, water supply and garbage disposal, although this only lasted until 2004. In 2008, Luzhkov signed another decree that would allow the groups to extend their leases.

Despite this, the Department of City Property refused to transfer ownership for many of the spaces to arts organisations, without an explanation. This resulted in a number of lawsuits, so on 10 September, the city cancelled all previous studio agreements and started sealing up properties.

The Department of City Property declined to comment the situation, but according to its website, many of the 1,500 spaces granted to the Moscow Artists Union are not used for art-related purposes, so the city needs to conduct a general inspection.

“These are intolerable conditions,” says the artist Konstantin Khudyakov, who is the president of the Creative Union of Artists of Russia. “People received these studios during the Soviet era, in many cases they just found and repaired these abandoned premises themselves.” Khudiakov adds they there may be some cases of spaces being misused, but that is not wide-spread.

Anatoly Osmolovsky, an artist, curator and the rector of the Institute of Contemporary Art Basa, however, offered a counterpoint on social media. He says artist union should be banned and their spaces confiscated because they are a relic of Stalinism. “Art has to live on its own, without the State! It is only worthwhile helping young artists. If an artist is mature and cannot pay his rent, why is he still an artist?” Osmolovsky says, adding that studio rents should be raised to the market value.

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