In St. Petersburg, a graffiti mural celebrating Joseph Brodsky’s 80th birthday was covered over almost as fast as it went up
On the day that would have been Russian poet Joseph Brodsky’s 80th birthday, May 24, a graffiti mural of his image appeared in St. Petersburg. It was painted on the wall of a school on Pestelya Street, located across from the Muruzi House, where Brodsky lived from 1955 to 1972 (his former apartment there is now a memorial museum). The image was based on a photo of Brodsky, taken by Italian photographer Graziano Arici in Venice in 1989. “It seems like an excellent place for a selfie has appeared here,” wrote the Brodsky Museum in a post on its official Instagram page.
The next day, the graffiti was covered up with white paint. Apparently, the school's caretaker was responsible for plastering over the mural. In a comment to the St. Petersburg newspaper Fontanka, she referred to the requirements of the State Administrative and Technical Inspectorate, which prohibits any drawings on the fences surrounding government institutions. The administration of St. Petersburg’s Central District noted that they did not give any instructions to remove the mural. In an interview with the news site “Podyom,” the administration’s press service also underscored that the school was acting in accordance with the law, adding that the artist could have coordinated the creation of the mural with the authorities in advance, but did not.
Brodsky fans attempted to restore the graffiti after it was destroyed. According to the staff of the Brodsky Museum, during the day on May 25, passerbys attempted to clean off the plaster that had been used to cover the mural by hand. But a school employee painted over the cleared sections of the image almost immediately. By evening, the mural was covered in a very dense layer of plaster, making attempts at restoration impossible.
The graffiti was the work of street artist Oleg Lukyanov. The mural, like many of Lukyanov’s other works, was made using a “urban-fresco” method, which is an image applied to softened plaster. Lukyanov said himself that he’s not surprised that the graffiti was covered over, but hopes that the image will be restored. “Since some people still need Joseph Alexandrovich [Brodsky], I think we can find some kind of compromise decision and restore the fresco, maybe in some type of temporary form. I am in favor of a dialog,” Lukyanov said.
St. Petersburg’s public works regularly paint over murals. This often leads to scandals, however, the authorities usually claim that their actions were forced, maintaining that they paint over graffiti only after receiving formal complaints from residents. In February 2019, the city’s legislative assembly adopted a bill in its first reading, which legalizes graffiti, subject to approval from officials. There has been no development on this topic since.