“Vladimir Potanin has advised the Board of Trustees of his decision to step down as Trustee effective immediately,” the museum said. “The Guggenheim accepts this decision and thanks Mr. Potanin for his service to the Museum and his support of exhibition, conservation and educational programs. The Guggenheim strongly condemns the Russian invasion and unprovoked war against the government and people of Ukraine.”
Potanin, who served as Russia’s first deputy prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin, maintains ties with current President Vladimir Putin and was among 13 billionaires summoned to a meeting at the Kremlin last week, according to Forbes. During Yeltsin’s administration, Potanin was one of the principal authors of the infamous “loans for shares” scheme, in which the government traded ownership in state-owned companies for bank loans — a policy Russian voters bitterly dubbed prikhvatizatsiya, or “grabification.” Potanin, then president of Oneksim Bank, was one of the program’s beneficiaries, securing a stake in Norilsk Nickel, the largest producer of refined nickel in the world.
For the last two decades, he has lent financial support to numerous initiatives at the Guggenheim through his foundation, including an 800-year survey of Russian art in 2005 and a conservation fellowship in 2019. Among the most recent projects sponsored by Potanin’s foundation is an exhibition of approximately 80 works by the Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky currently on view at the museum. Since the oligarch’s departure from the board, the Guggenheim has removed his name from the list of funders of the show on its website.
In the last week, a number of arts organizations have willingly cut ties with Russian moguls or come under scrutiny for those relationships. On Tuesday, March 1, Russian banking magnate Petr Aven stepped down as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London, which also returned a donation he made to a forthcoming Francis Bacon exhibition. Aven was included in the European Union’s recent list of sanctions, described as “one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs.”
London’s Tate Foundation, which supports acquisitions funding and other projects for the Tate’s museums, has been asked to divest from Viktor Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born aluminum baron and Putin associate. Before he was sanctioned by the United States in 2018, Vekselberg also made donations to New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.