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Dasha Zhukova’s ‘racist chair’ is a publicity gold mine

23 January 2014

2:07 PM

23 January 2014

2:07 PM

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.

Sit back and watch: as more articles chastise the ‘racist’ work, the value of Melgaard’s stuff skyrockets, and guess who cashes in on it? The people who collect his work, of course. So the Saatchi Gallery, then. And Zhukova too.

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Show comments
  • left_foot

    How the fuck did the editor not think this image would not have any racist undertones, by releasing the image on MLK’s birthday. The editor is too well feed and out of touch. She is in a privilege bubble, such fucking ignorance.

  • FrankS2

    MAybe an enterprising maker of inflatable toys can do a cheap, mass-produced

    copy and we can all have one – choice of black, white, male, female.

  • Q46

    Only the really clever people can ‘get’ modern art, the rest of us can only see it for the tosh it is.

  • Terry Field

    Reminds me of that 60’s coffee table top on a sweet little thing wearing undies.

  • Simon McTuffington

    I bet isabel hardman would be gushing if she sat on a chair like that

  • oblio jones

    Not everyone is going to agree about everything. I personally feel that even using the phrase gold mine in the title of this article sends the wrong message. I mean, is the author really trying to encourage this disrespect? I understand that they point out that by others being outraged our freedom of expression remains healthy and intact, but a publicity goldmine? Sends the wrong message…

  • EPaul ETOK

    Too racist and disgusting photo

    • Terry Field

      Don’t be so precious – it is fun!

  • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

    On abstract art : in general I don’t think all is without merit in that pleasing shapes can be produced.

    It IS totally without value. other than what trendy wendy too rich by far boogerooters care to pay.

    On painting in general who thinks that the sunflower by earless is worth even a glass of water ?
    Someone paid millions , may even have been the chinese…not sure.

  • Eddie

    Couldn’t this gold-digger just sit on Roman’s face instead? Or maybe he could sit on hers? Or she could be portrayed sucking milk from his breast – now that would be a good metaphor.

  • Engley

    This is not art it is CRAP period, whether it’s a black or white woman it’s just crap and anyone who pays for this obviously has more money than sense!
    Give it to me and I’ll put it to good use.

  • Merche Bouter

    It looks rather boring. Just like a bored girl, instead of anyone trying to make an artistic statement.

  • Guest
  • Jez

    I’d like to see how many defenders of this unique individual there would be if it were Nigel Farage sat on that.

    (i’ve got to admit, i had to smile at the hypothetical picture of that one!)

  • sam

    this is insane. very rubbish. this is racist. fucking eastern european racist bitch

    • dalai guevara

      Hahaha! So the changeover from Iraqi to Russian philanthropy is going to plan then.

    • Engley

      How do you know she is racist? have you met her?

  • Makroon

    Next on the new, improved Coffee House: a detailed discussion of Justin Bieber’s latest publicity stunt as “art”. Oh ! and a few more provocative digs at Farage, just to keep the post count up.
    Anybody running a book on when Mr Nelson will resign/be sacked yet ?

  • FrankS2

    Did you actually look at the picture before writing “a cushion balanced strategically on her voluptuous bosom…”.
    It’s actually balanced on her bottom. And she’s not naked.

  • laurence

    ‘Dasha Zhukova sat on Bjarne Melgaard’s chair’. Are you a footballer, a cockney or simply illiterate? The inability to distinguish between ‘sat’ and ‘sitting’ is beginning to permeate putatively quality periodicals. It is not uncommon in The Telegraph;, I have encountered this aberration in The Times and it is a daily occurrence in the tabloids.

    • left_foot

      She still posed in the fucking chair, what your point?

      • laurence

        Trying to explain grammar, syntax or manners to you would be like explaining Heidegger to a grapefruit.

  • Donafugata

    Ideas that pretend to be art are often recycled for a new generation that is unaware that it’s all been done before.

    Dasha has adapted the Allen Jones oeuvre for a modern audience, hardened with experience and the Internet, it’s getting tough to be provocative.

    Dasha is not an artist but pretends to be an art dealer. She needs to reassure herself that she is more than just a bimbo to an oligarch kleptocrat.

  • Donafugata

    Is the black girl real or made of papier mâché?

    • Fergus Pickering

      She is not real. I don’t know what she is made of.

    • Tom Tom

      If she is real she is pretty hot !

  • ploppi

    Looks like a lot of hype to me under the guise of some faux racism.
    To promote the artist Melgaard.
    There again judging by the art on his website. I can see why it looks like they are depsperate to create a media publicised controvery.
    The media is playing their part in generating publicity too.
    The chair is a fibreglass sculpture and the color of the sculpture depicting a woman makes no difference. It’s kitch and the original Allen Jones furniture was just as bland and boring.
    The whole thing looks staged to me.
    People read into it whatever suits them.
    You can still buy the blackamoor stools and furniture in expensive antique shops and auction rooms today and they are all about depicting slavery.

    • Eddie

      Indeed, and most people are utterly unaware of the true history of slavery – i.e. that it existed in all cultures everywhere since the beginning of time, and enslaved people of all skin colours, and that it continued right up until the white Europeans, particularly Britain, banned it and spread that ban around the world from 1807 (60 years before the USA) thanks to the Empire.
      Oh and Russia only banned slavery in 1865, (indeed the word Slav comes from the word slave) and Europe had slaves under communism until 1991. And Russia still does have slaves – for example, troublesome journalists declared mentally ill by bribed doctors and shut away in fake mental hospitals in Siberia…
      The idea of slavery being ‘owned’ by African-Americans says a great deal about their segregationist culture there and their divisive race industry (which constantly seeks publicity and brings up the oppression of slavery, which no black alive has known, to make excuses and claim more funding and special treatment).
      One million whites were stolen from the 14th to 18th centuries from Europe by north Africans (Barbary pirates). Go back further, and see centuries of abuse of whites by Africans and Arabs – especially of blonde white women and children who populated their hareems (maybe it was all the fault of that depraved sultan Al-Saville)
      But hey, the artwork is trash – like all modern conceptual art. It is all cheap, shallow and contrived, just like the Russian gangsters and the hoares who buy this junk for millions to show off. They’re all just Russo-chavs, and common and vulgar as they come.

      • La Fold

        Indeed. The Ottoman Empire and its harems were filled with Circassian women (who were highly desirable due to their caucasian appearance) who were guarded by Eunuchs of mostly African origins. Since castration was banned byIslamic law this job was usuallyleft to be done by Ethiopians Christians who had no such reservations to brutalising their fellow Africans.

        • Eddie

          Oh, I though the Koran – or maybe a Hadith – recommends castrating male slaves in hot sand as soon as you gets em!

          But you are right – the Arabs always went for the women and the children, who apparently made up three quarters of slaves they took to Arabia.

          These days, they buy their secks toy disposable people from the Philippines. Plus ca change…

          • La Fold

            Im not sure but I think their was Islamic Jurists that stated it was prohibited for muslims to perform the act not to employ them, hence the loop hole of employing others to do it. The vasy majority of them bled to death or from infection but the sale of just one Eunuch was so profitable the trade of importing eunuchs flourished.
            Also savery, although officially outlawed in the late 19th century by the Ottoman empire was going on openly well until the start of the first world war. During the Armenian genocide young Armenian girls were so readily available they were sold off for pennies.

            • La Fold

              Ahh only on the spectator would someone vote down what is historical fact.

          • EPaul ETOK

            The whole Ottman Empire were ruled by Turks not Arabs.Check your sources

  • McClane

    There are times when I am seriously glad that I don’t pay to subscribe to the Spectator. This is one of them.

    • Makroon

      It will only get worse.

  • saffrin

    It’s an improvement on the waste paper bin, at least it’s functional.

  • Reality_Cheque123

    So if she were to be white, it’s not racist?

    Also, it’s funny that racist is the ‘boo’ word here, and no-one cares about it being sexist.

  • DavidL

    I’m glad it wasn’t only me who immediately thought of Allen Jones. This is crappy, sexist “art” derivatively lifted from half a century ago (a world in which people like Jimmy Savile and DLT were at the forefront of popular culture). Nothing to see here; not even in an ironic post-modern way. I suppose there might be some sort of symbolism in seeing a Russian oligarch’s wife in situ, as it were, but I’m not even sure about that.

  • Pootles

    ‘Modern’ art – the reason it is so stupidly expensive is that none of us great unwashed would give it house room.

  • La Fold

    Modern Art, biggest scam going.

    • MaxSceptic

      Al Capp defined abstract art as: “a product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”

      Much the same can be said for most ‘modern art’.

      • Engley

        I absolutely agree. I wish I had thought of that.

    • Ricky Strong

      That and the EU.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Hardly. Who pays for it all?

      • La Fold

        From what I gather absolute zoomers with more cash than taste.

  • James S

    Shock (or is that schlock) art…

  • Daniel Maris

    So is it compulsory to be on Team Nigella if you write for the Spectator?

    • MaxSceptic

      Not compulsory, but most men would like to handle Nigella somewhat differently than there way Saatchi did so publicly.

      • La Fold

        True. Her throat would be the last thing Id be grabbing!