A Russian billionaire has offered to buy two controversial statues that protesters want removed from US cities due to their troubling ties to racism and colonialism.
Businessman Andrey Filatov’s Art Russe Foundation, which collects and preserves Soviet-era art, said it is willing to purchase depictions of Theodore Roosevelt and settler Alexander Baranov, found in New York and Alaska respectively, as both men left a “positive mark” on Russia.
The two statues are among hundreds across America facing calls to be pulled down after Black Lives Matter protests sparked nationwide discussions about the memorialization of various historical figures. Filatov’s foundation hopes to bring them to St. Petersburg in the name of preserving “cultural and historical heritage.”
“We have deep respect and appreciation for individuals who contributed to the development of Russia and were associated with the history of our country,” said an Art Russe Foundation spokesperson in an emailed statement.
“Both the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, and the governor of Russian settlements in North America, Alexander Baranov, were statesmen who left their positive mark in Russia’s history. We therefore see the need to preserve their memory for future generations.”
Andrey Filatov Credit: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images
Currently found in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the Roosevelt statue in question has long faced vandalism and calls for its removal due to its depiction of a Native American man and Black man stood at the feet of the US president.
The Theodore Roosevelt Equestrian Statue, which sits in front of the The American Museum of Natural History. Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Roosevelt’s place in Russian history stems from his role brokering a treaty between Russia and Japan in 1904, bringing the countries’ year-and-a-half-long war to an end. His role in the deal, known as the Treaty of Portsmouth, won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.
Alexander Baranov, meanwhile, was a merchant who once governed Russian America — the parts of North America owned by Russia before they were sold to the United States in the so-called Alaska Purchase. A bronze sculpture of Baranov has stood in the city of Sitka since 1989, though Native American communities there have led calls for it to be taken down.
Statue of Alexander Ivanovich Baranov, Sitka, Baranof Island, Alaska, USA Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Showing art ‘to the people’
The 48-year-old is also renowned as a chess player, and serves as president of Russia’s chess federation.
In 2012, Filatov founded Art Russe Foundation in order to collect Russian art — primarily from the Soviet era (1917 to 1991) — which it then loans out to museums and galleries
Art Russe Foundation confirmed that it has written to Sitka’s City Hall, the American Museum of Natural History and unspecified “New York City authorities” to express its interest in the two statues. The spokesperson did not say how much had — or would be — offered, instead stating that the artworks’ “monetary value is subject to negotiation.”
The spokesperson added that the Russian city of St. Petersburg would be “the appropriate host city” for the statues.