Lenin vs Vuitton

Photo by Igor Tabakov / Moscow Times
Photo by Igor Tabakov / Moscow Times

I was all packed, my travel winter wardrobe ready to brave the freezing temperatures of Moscow to attend the opening of Louis Vuitton‘s travel exhibition in Red Square. It would have featured art and luggage from international and Russian artists and personalities including artist Olga Chernysheva, prima ballerina Diana Vishneva, Sofia Coppola, Damien Hirst, James Turrell and Countess Orloff-Davidoff. But the plug was pulled at the last minute and I was told the exhibition was ‘postponed’.

What happened? Clearly some disruption on Red Square. Perhaps an official miffed over a work deemed inappropriate for the Russian public, I thought. Weeks ago it was performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky nailing his scrotum to the cobblestones outside the Kremlin. This time what could it be? An incendiary installation that required censoring? Did Hirst install an embalmed shark outside the tomb of the embalmed Lenin? Well, sort of, except there was no pickled seafood, sex, genitals or anti-Putin paintings involved. This time is was a giant suitcase installed smack-bang in the middle of Red Square, only a stone’s throw away from Lenin’s tomb where the mummified leader of Russia’s Bolshevik revolution is interred.

It was the clash of Communism and Capitalism. Vladimir Lenin vs Louis Vuitton. The 100 feet long and 30 feet high logoed symbol of capitalist aspiration was supposed to be part of the temporary Louis Vuitton exhibition of art and luggage, slated to open this Friday and to run until mid-January. But blocking out the view of iconic St Basil’s Cathedral, and the ‘eyesore’s’ proximity to Lenin’s tomb proved more for locals and State Duma deputies than a nailed scrotum, and yesterday the luxury company was asked to start dismantling the display.

Louis Vuitton argues that all necessary permits were applied for and that the giant installation pays tribute to Russia’s history; the painted initials on the trunk, P.W.O. stand for Prince Wladimir Orloff, who once owned a trunk similar to the one on display. Proceeds from the exhibit were to go to a Russian charity run by supermodel Natalia Vodianova, girlfriend of Antoine Arnault, head of communications of Louis Vuitton.

But Sergei Obukhov, a Duma deputy from the Communist Party, said the giant suitcase derided and mocked Red Square, which is on UNESCO’s world cultural heritage list. Sergei Obukhov, another member of the Communist Party Central Committee, said in the Wall Street Journal, “This is a sacred place for the Russian state. There are some symbols that cannot be trivialised or denigrated.”

While this debacle will no doubt prove quite expensive for LV, it certainly can’t be denied that it’s earned the brand a great deal of publicity. Public art or publicity coup? The jury’s still out.

Photo from tjournal.ru
Photo from tjournal.ru

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