Canada Has Sanctioned the Director of Russia's Hermitage Museum Over His Support for the War in Ukraine | Artnet News

Canada has become the first country outside of Ukraine to officially sanction Mikhail Piotrovsky, who is director of Russia’s State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The Russian historian, who succeeded his father, Boris Piotrovsky, as head of the Hermitage in 1990, has been outspoken of his support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He was among the Russian cultural figures added to Canada’s Special Economic Measures Act in July, the Art Newspaper reports.

“Russia is using its celebrities in the cultural sector to promote the Kremlin’s propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine,” the amendment, published in the government’s official Canada Gazette, read. “Russia is systematically destroying Ukrainian culture as part of its ongoing violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,”

As of press time, the Hermitage Museum had not responded to inquiries from Artnet News regarding the sanctions.

Piotrovsky, whose relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin dates back to the ’90s, is one of the most prominent voices backing the invasion among the nation’s arts and culture leaders.

“Our country is carrying out great global transformations… and we, accordingly, are part of them and with her,” he told the Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta last June, referring to the war as “special military operation”—the verbiage approved by the government.

This April, he doubled down, telling the Gazeta that “it is important for me to be with my country when it makes a historic choice,” and while he admitted that armed conflict is destructive, it also can be an opportunity for “cultural exchange.”

“See how powerfully the Ukrainian nation is being formed,” he added.

In protest of Piotrovsky’s support for the war, the Hermitage Museum’s contemporary art curator, Dmitri Ozerkov, resigned his post in 2022.

Canada has also sanctioned Olga Lyubimova, Russia’s culture minister, as have the European Union, the U.S., and the U.K.

For over 20 years, Canada was home to the State Hermitage Museum Foundation of Canada, founded by Robert Kaszanits, former assistant director of Canada’s National Gallery, to help preserve the St. Petersburg institution’s collection, and share it with the Canadian public. With Piotrovsky, Kaszanits coauthored the catalogue for the 2002 Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition “Voyage into Myth: Gaugin to Matisse, French Painting from the Hermitage Museum.”)

Business records indicated the organization dissolved in 2019, but the Hermitage still lists the Canadian Friends of the Hermitage among its official international supporters. The group “has suspended its activities for the time being,” a museum spokesperson told TAN.

In response to the war, the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam officially severed ties with its Russian parent museum in 2022. The former satellite institution announced plans in June to rename itself the H’ART Museum; last month, it settled with a Belgium contemporary art magazine, HART, that had threatened legal action over the rebranding. 

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