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August 23, 2013 Repository 84: Russian Artist Creates Women Only Golden Shower in Venice Posted In: contemporary art, exhibition of note

Russian conceptual artist Vadim Zakharov has transformed* the Russian Pavilion in Venice this year into a charged performance separated into “five acts” using gender as a dividing line. The installation is inspired by the myth of Danaë who was famously raped by Zeus – though in the write up of the art piece the rape is called “impregnation” to soften the blow. The crafty and powerful Zeus raped Danaë in this particular myth, not by transforming into a swan or bull as in other rape scenarios, but as gold coins falling from the sky.

AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS

AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS

The gold coins fall from the sky in this exhibit, and the women are given umbrellas and allowed into the bottom floor where the gold coins land. No men are allowed. They can then take a gold coin for themselves (impregnation?), and put other gold coins back into a bucket that is then hoisted to the top floor and dropped back down – a cycle of impregnation, continuous consumption, or blind acquiescence.

photo © daniel zakharov

photo © daniel zakharov

Up on the top floor is a man who sits on a horse saddle, there is no horse, he is simply straddling a beam. He is also eating peanuts, supposedly contemplating his guilt and meditating on the wall text which reads:

“… the time has come to confess our Rudeness, Lust, Narcissism, Demagoguery, Falsehood, Banality, and Greed, Cynicism, Robbery, Speculation, Wastefulness, Gluttony, Seduction, Envy, and Stupidity.”

The nuts are well, nuts. I don’t know if there is another connotation in Russian culture about peanuts, but certainly nuts are another name for male genitalia – so could this be an analogy to eating parts of oneself? The naughty bits? Oh it’s conceptual art, so one may contemplate these trajectories. Oh and isn’t there an equally vulgar translation of a “golden shower”?

Next is another level where a man is picking up the bucket through a hole in the ground, where he puts the coins on a conveyor belt, and they eventually refill the bottom, women-only floor creating the shower of gold coins.

photo © daniel zakharov

photo © daniel zakharov

There is still another floor where there are pew-type viewing areas, suggesting again the penance of those that participate in this lusty commercial cycle of greed. The men in all areas of the performance are dressed in suits, and are completely alienated from the audience – much like sequestered bankers working in an arena built for and only contributing to an island of benefactors.

photo © daniel zakharov

photo © daniel zakharov


While I love the idea of setting apart the gender lines in the exhibit, and giving the protective umbrellas to the women, it’s a mighty aseptic take on the brutality of power, sex, rape, lust and greed. In other words it’s almost too beautiful and balanced. A more violent reaction to the myth occurred in 1985, also in Russia, when a man threw sulpheric acid and slashed the canvas of Rembrandt’s Danaë. While the man proved to be insane, I am curious what he was thinking when he attacked this passive work of art – was it the myth that bothered him, or Danaë’s sexuality in the painting? Likely a bubbling conversion of both.

I’ve read that men are outraged that they are unable to enter the coin filled room for the women in Zakharov’s installation. I recall being in Scotland several years ago and someone at St. Andrew’s golf shop pointed to a building on the property and said “You’ll never be allowed in there in your lifetime.” This threw me into a dizzy, angry state initially, but only after reflection did I realize that I wanted nothing to do with what was inside – it was nothing sacred, it was simply a skewed version of reality.

Greek myths are near and dear to my heart – maybe it’s the Latin I took for years and the fond memories of decoding the now akward language into a story, or simply the idea that people actually believed these myths years ago. I’m currently working through Greek myths in my own work, and have made a piece specifically with Danaë in it years ago. In my painting she had an umbrella – a symbol of protection from Zeus. Unlike Zakharov’s Danaës in his installation, she never took a gold coin in my painting, that would be following through with Zeus’ uninvited plan.

photo © daniel zakharov

photo © daniel zakharov


* German Odo Kittelmann, Director of the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has curated Vadim Zakharov’s Danaë Project in the Russian Pavilion in this year’s 55th Venice Bienale.

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