MOSCOW, September 3 (RIA Novosti) – The director of a St. Petersburg museum from where police confiscated paintings last week, including one of Russia’s president and prime minister in drag, was briefly detained in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to media reports.
“I was detained at 4 a.m. without any explanation,” Tatyana Titova said, the BBC Russian Service reported. “And they didn’t explain anything after they took me to the local police precinct either.”
St. Petersburg police said four people, who they did not identify, were detained early Tuesday morning outside the Museum of Authority following a complaint by a local resident. The documents of all four were checked, and they were released three hours later, according to a police spokesperson.
Titova was working late to prepare the museum for a Thursday opening when the police arrived, the museum’s owner Alexander Donskoi said by telephone. “She was given no information, shown no documents and provided with no explanation,” he said about Titova's detention.
Police shut the Museum of Authority on August 27 after confiscating several paintings by artist Konstantin Altunin from its “Rulers” exhibition, in response to a complaint by St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who authored controversial city legislation passed in 2012 banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors.
The four paintings “withdrawn” by police include a portrait of President Vladimir Putin in a pink-white dress fondling the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev clad in nothing but a push-up blue bra and matching panties, a portrait of Milonov entitled “Rainbow Milonov” and painting of Moscow Patriarch Kirill sporting prison tattoos with skulls and profiles of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.
Altunin, who said the police confiscations of his work amounted to censorship, fled Russia last week fearing he could be arrested. He has said he is seeking political asylum in France.
The Museum of Authority is currently closed, but is scheduled to re-open at 3 p.m. on Thursday when it will show the remainder of Altunin’s works of art for one day before they will be packed up and sent to the artist in Paris, according to the museum’s website.
Altunin has appealed to world leaders, who will be in St. Petersburg for the G20 summit hosted on Thursday and Friday, to raise the issue of censorship in Russia during discussions with Putin.
Milonov, the St. Petersburg lawmaker, said Tuesday that museum owner Donskoi should try and put on an exhibition similar to Altunin’s in the United States, where he said the response by the authorities would be much harsher.
“As art knows no borders, I suggest Donskoi put on a similar exhibition in the United States on the eve of an international event [like the G20] that shows the President of that country Barack Obama in a similar way,” he said, according to Russian media reports.
Donskoi, a former mayor of the Arctic city of Archangelsk, received a suspended three-year jail sentence for abuse of power in 2008. He claimed that charges against him were concocted after he spoke about his presidential ambitions in 2006, Russian media reported. He currently owns two other unusual attractions – the "G-Spot" sex museum and the "USSR Museum" in Moscow that displays a “breathing mummy” of Soviet state founder Lenin.
It is not the first time that Russian museums, and artists, have come to the attention of law enforcement officials for poking fun at the authorities.
Two members of feminist rock band Pussy Riot are currently serving two year jail sentences for an unsanctioned punk prayer protest against Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012.
Marat Guelman, founder of a controversial state-run museum in the Urals city of Perm, said in June that he was fired from his position as the museum’s head after staging an exhibition ridiculing the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a prestige project on which the Kremlin has reportedly spent over $50 billion.
Police made a mistake in detaining Titova, Guelman said on social networking site Twitter on Tuesday.
“I think that St. Petersburg police will achieve only one thing – any artists will simply be obliged to draw a picture of Putin and Medvedev in drag,” he wrote.