On July 4, 2001 Zurab Tsereteli, a prolific yet controversial Russian sculptor, presented a bronze statue of Britain’s Princess Diana. The statue was put on display in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.
The statue was ready by July 1, to commemorate what would have been Diana’s 40th birthday. The bronze statue, designed on Tsereteli’s own initiative, is over 6 feet tall and portrays Diana in full length, in an evening gown and tiara, with a bouquet of flowers.
Zurab Tsereteli, President of the Russian Academy of Art, had been personally acquainted with Diana, as he actively participated in many of the Red Cross charity events sponsored by the Princess. As Tsereteli recalls, “to eternalize her unforgettable image in a sculpture is the least I could do to express my deepest respect for Lady Diana.”
Tsereteli’s creative fertility helped him develop a certain routine described by Moscow’s chief architect Aleksandr Kuzmin, as that of a daily newspaper. As he put it: “Before [Tsereteli], the sculptor’s work was what could have been “War and Peace” for literature, while he turned monumental art into a periodical: dead by day – in stone by night. Diana died – here comes her monument. Yeltsin has barely been buried in the Novodevichye Cemetery – his monument, too, is a done deal.”
Though the Princess Diana statue was meant to stay in Moscow, Tsereteli is known for peddling his many sculptures all over the world. These works of art, however, are occasionally rejected as overpriced, like the 5-million-dollar Charles de Gaulle, meant for France, or oversized and tasteless, like the 660-ton bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, destined for the United States. The French President found peace on one of Moscow’s squares, while Christopher Columbus, twice as high as the Statue of Liberty without her pedestal, underwent slight “plastic surgery.” Given a new face, Columbus came back as Russia’s Peter the Great and was installed on the embankment of the Moscow River, regardless of Peter’s well-known scorn for Moscow.
The same procedure had been performed on what was first meant to be Princess Diana. After a little nip and tuck, the British Princess became Princess Olga of Pskov, the ancient Russian ruler, still bearing a stunning resemblance to her British counterpart and very modern-looking.
A close friend of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Tsereteli’s was given priority in decorating Russia’s capital with his oversized sculptures and monumental architectural projects, deemed by the overwhelming majority of Moscow residents as distasteful and lacking in artistic merit. As for Tsereteli, he compares Luzhkov’s love for him to that of the Venetian authorities’ love for Titian and is convinced it is nothing but an indicator of the mayor’s good taste and is ready to present many more projects in the future.