Wende Museum Collection Stirs Controversy
The Wende Museum in Culver City recently acquired a significant collection of early post-Soviet stock vouchers, privatization certificates, and Ponzi scheme coupons that dominated alternative currencies of the early 1990s in Russia.
Vouchers and certificates, given to workers at the various factories and collectives as ownership shares, were bought or otherwise obtained by Russian businessmen who would be become known as The Oligarchs, including Mikhail Chernoi , Oleg Deripaska, Boris Berezovsky, and Roman Abramovich.
Relying on a mixture of criminal enterprise and convincing workers to sell the shares in the face of hyperinflation that was fast making them worthless, these vouchers became the source of much of the wealth of the present day Oligarchs, coupled with Boris Yeltsin's 'Loans for Shares' scheme that sold state companies at a fraction of their true value.
Now, in the British Pavilion at the 55(th) Venice Biennale, the world's most prestigious art festival, UK artist Jeremy Deller has provoked controversy and ignited social debate in England by presenting an installation of the Wende's original vouchers and certificates in the 'Russian Room'. Entitled We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold, the exhibition is anchored by a mural of Victorian designer and socialist politician William Morris as a giant mythological superhero throwing tycoon Roman Abramovich's yacht into the sea.
Abramovich along with the other Oligarchs are major players in the art world and are among the wealthiest residents in the UK. The illicit sources of their wealth are underscored by the larger-than-life presentation of The Wende Museum's newest collection.
According to the 2004 Turner Prize-winning Deller, "It's so important that an institution like The Wende exists to collect items from such a fascinating moment in world history. Collections like this and the museum's willingness to lend the material are the life blood for artists like myself who enjoy investigating and playing with history."
Wende is a German word that means 'transformation/change' and is used to refer to the transition from eastern communism to western capitalism.
English Magic is on view in the British Pavilion until November 24, and then will travel to three museums in the UK during 2014. The British Pavilion is online at www.britishcouncil-venice.org.
The Wende Museum is located at 5741 Buckingham Parkway . It is open on Fridays from 10 am to 5 pm, with tours at 11:30 am and 2 pm, and Mondays through Thursdays by appointment. Admission is free.
In 2014, The Wende will move to the former Culver City Armory, tripling its exhibition galleries and providing excellent public access as part of a mile-long cultural corridor with numerous permanent public art installations, live music venues, theaters, and museums. www.wendemuseum.org