Artists Compete for Best Drawing of Russian Oligarch on Trial

By Sadie Bass

Sep 22, 2009 2:48pm

ABC's Alexander Marquardt reports from Moscow: At first glance it looks like a high school art exhibit: many of the drawings hanging from twine on the sterile gallery’s walls are amateurish sketches, others detailed portraits, some fantastical cartoons. As in an art class, most have a common element. But it’s no bowl of fruit or standing nude, but rather the tired, bespectacled face of Russia’s former richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. For most of the summer, Khodorkovsky was observed by artists who tried to capture the mood inside the Moscow courtroom where he spends his days behind bars, far from his old perch at the helm of Russia’s biggest oil company, Yukos. The anti-government former billionaire has been charged with money laundering and theft in this trial, his second following the 2003 sentence to eight years in a Siberian prison for fraud and tax evasion.  The trial has garnered national attention, with critics accusing the government of attempting to keep Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant, Platon Lebedev, locked up indefinitely. Fascination with the proceedings grew so much that the Sergei Kuznetsov Content Group launched a competition called “Drawing the Court”, asking artists to submit works of art documenting the trial and its participants. The contest ended in early September and last week some of the best renderings went on display at Moscow’s Central House of Artists. “The trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky has already become a factor of the Russian contemporary history and it still attracts public and media attention.” the website for the competition reads. “The trial has gone beyond a mere social phenomenon, and has become a fact of Russian contemporary culture, being covered not only by journalists, but also artists, poets, and novelists.” Hundreds were submitted and the best were displayed at Moscow’s Central House of Artists. Iya Oserova submitted one of the biggest pieces to the judges, a colorful rendering in fabric measuring about 18 square feet of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev sitting in their pen during the trial. “It was very interesting to be at the trial and draw the people there,” she said. “The prosecution lawyers were all very comical, mock-worthy subjects who couldn’t even read properly. The two behind the bars represented dignity.” Many of the artists leave no doubt as to what they think about the trial. In one painting, a silhouetted man holds Lady Justice’s scales in one hand and a pistol with a silencer in the other. “Have a nice day!” the judge spews at the defendants in a nearby cartoon. Others shows less activism. A caption under the caricature of the trial’s judge reads, “Bored judge.” Several show the vase of fresh flowers Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s supporters put on the defense’s table every day to brighten the defendants’ moods. Oserova was named one of six winners of the competition. They have been awarded a trip to New York to further study and practice their art.

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