Russian banking magnate Petr Aven has stepped down as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London as cultural institutions in the U.K. face increased pressure to sever ties with Russia in the aftermath of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Royal Academy confirmed the news, adding that it returned to Aven the donation he made in support of “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast,” which is open at the RA until April 17. The museum declined to comment on the amount of money or terms involved in Aven’s donation “for reasons of commercial sensitivity.”
An avid art collector who has lent artworks to prominent institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate in London, Aven was named as “one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs” by the European Union in a sanction document published on February 28.
The reports notes that Aven is a key shareholder of the Alfa Group, one of Russia’s largest private investment groups and the owner of Alfa Bank.
“He does not operate independently of the President’s demands,” the document said in reference to Putin.
Aven’s London-based business partner, Mikhail Fridman, was also punished by the E.U., but the pair have called the sanctions and related allegations “spurious” and “unfounded.”
The moves comes as U.K. politicians and activists call for other cultural institutions to remove allies of Putin from their boards.
“Putin supporters should be removed from our cultural institutions and galleries, and museums should run a mile from blood-drenched Russian money,” parliamentarian Chris Bryant said in a Twitter post.
Tate is under pressure because of its ties with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who is an honorary member of the Tate Foundation.
In a statement issued to Artnet News, a museums spokesperson said Vekselberg had donated to the museum seven years ago and that his membership title is honorary.
“There is no ongoing connection,” the spokesperson added.
Vekselberg, an energy tycoon, claimed he had more than $1.5 billion worth of assets frozen since he was placed on a U.S. sanction list in 2018. (To date, Vekselberg has not been sanctioned by the U.K. or the E.U.)
Ukraine’s culture sector has been vocal in calling on major cultural institutions such as Art Basel, the Venice Biennale, and Documenta to stop working with Russia.
A petition organized by Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s minister of culture, has thus far been signed by curator Pavlo Gudimov, the founder of Ya Gallery in Lviv; and Marta Trotsiuk, the founder of Gallery 101 and the head of the Ukrainian Gallerists Association.
Meanwhile, the Russian-owned auction house Phillips made a pro-Ukraine statement on Instagram with an image of the country’s flag.
“We at Phillips unequivocally condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Along with the rest of the art world, we have been shocked and saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the region. We call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities in the strongest possible terms,” said Stephen Brooks, the auction house’s CEO.
The auction house added that SWIFT sanctions against Russia, which have cut the country’s banks off from their international counterparts, will have no impact on upcoming auctions.