May 29, 2023

The Centre Pompidou in Paris announced that it was suspending a forthcoming donation of about $619,000 from the foundation of Vladimir Potanin, president of Russia’s Norilsk Nickel and owner of Russian multi-sector conglomerate Interros. The decision to halt transfer of the funds comes as Russia continues its sustained attack on Ukraine. It also follows on the heels of Potanin’s resignation from the board of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which he tendered just hours after US president Joe Biden publicly announced that the nation’s Justice Department would begin investigating Russian billionaires. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Potanin’s net worth is $33.6 billion, making him the wealthiest person in Russia and the thirty-second richest in the world. He had served on the Guggenheim’s board for two decades, most recently sponsoring the current exhibition “Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle,.”

The chair of the board of trustees of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Potanin is a longtime arts philanthropist, having contributed funds to institutions around the globe in the past several decades in support of the display of Russian art. The funds rejected by the Pompidou, which the French daily Le Monde described as a “source of embarrassment,” represent the third tranche of a gift previously totaling $1.4 million and doled out beginning in 2015, when Potanin supplied the museum with roughly $638,000 to assist with the purchase of some 250 works of Soviet and Russian art, subsequently displayed in the Pompidou’s 2016–17 exhibition “Kollektsia! Contemporary Art in the USSR and Russia, 1950–2000.” A second donation, of about $762,000, funded the development and 2017 inauguration of a collection research program and attendant grants for fledgling researchers and curators. The now-suspended round would have supported the museum’s exhibition program. Pompidou official have said they have no plans to return any of the works purchased with earlier rounds of Potanin Foundation funding.


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