Lara Prendergast Lara Prendergast

Dasha Zhukova’s publicity stunt

We think we’re immune to whatever the art world can throw at us. A urinal here, an unmade bed there, a dead shark to the head. But occasionally we forget our indifference, and become very worked up. Hurrah! Proof we aren’t all suffering from a prolonged bout of cultural nonchalance.

Dasha Zhukova – Roman Abramovich’s art-collecting girlfriend, who runs the contemporary gallery Garage in Moscow – has angered people by being photographed on what looks like a black woman leaning back, naked, and with a cushion balanced strategically on her voluptuous bosom. Of course, she isn’t actually sitting on a real black woman with a voluptuous bosom, but rather a polyvinyl sculpture by the Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard.

The publication of this image happened to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, which makes it look suspiciously like a stunt. Zhukova has issued an apology after a flood of complaints and accusations of ‘racism’; but she and Melgaard continue to make headlines around the world. Melgaard hasn’t even done anything that original – his chair is based on one by Allen Jones, owned by Tate Britain. All he’s done is change the race of the woman – but the concept itself is hackneyed. But just like that, he’s become culturally relevant – read ‘worth buying’ – and a cynic might say she’s pulled off a mighty fine move, reminiscent of the tricks Saatchi used to pull in the 1990s with the YBAs, like the infamous Sensation exhibition.

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