Vladimir Lenin wanted to be buried beside his mother in his St. Petersburg. But since he isn’t, someone should check whether lying on Red Square beside an oversized Louis Vuitton suitcase does indeed have him spinning in his tomb.
Many Russians – led by Lenin’s heirs in the Communist Party – are stunned by the appearance of a nine-metre-high, 30-metre-long Louis Vuitton trunk on Red Square, a cobblestone plaza more famous for demonstrations against the evils of capitalism and displays of Russian military might.
Modern, heavily commercialized Moscow bears little resemblance to its Soviet-era self, but many here remain unconvinced that the luxury brand’s signature wares should be displayed alongside the red-walled Kremlin, the playfully domed St. Basil’s Cathedral and the austere Lenin’s Tomb.
“[Red Square] is a sacred place of the Russian government. There are symbols like this that cannot be trivialized or denigrated, because the future of the government depends on it,” said Sergei Obukhov, a Communist deputy in Russia’s parliament, the Duma. He demanded a police investigation into how Luis Vuitton got permission to stage its exhibit there.
Russians took to social media Tuesday to mock the the ad campaign and their government’s willingness to rent out Russia’s most famous real estate. One popular gag suggested that that “LV” label actually stood for “Lenin, Vladimir.” An Instagram user posted a Photoshopped picture of Lenin’s Tomb covered in Louis Vuitton branding.
The giant trunk is actually a building intended to house an advertising display featuring what the company is calling “historical suitcases” and video installations, and labelled L’Ame de Voyage, or the spirit of travel. Russian media reported that the exhibit will last until Jan. 19, meaning it will take up a large chunk of Red Square on New Year’s Eve, when Russians traditionally gather on the plaza to watch fireworks.
Embarrassed Russian authorities tried to deflect blame after it became clear the public was not enamoured with the location of the display. The Presidential Administration, which is normally responsible for the maintenance of Red Square and its surrounding buildings, claimed to have no advance knowledge of the structure, as did the Culture Ministry, even though the mammoth suitcase has been under construction for at least a week. But the massive GUM shopping mall that takes up one side of Red Square claimed the Louis Vuitton exhibit had all the necessary permissions to be there.
The trunk is supposed to help commemorate the 120th anniversary of GUM, a showpiece mall that spent much of the Soviet era as an office building. It now hosts flagship shores for Louis Vuitton and other Western brands. Voice of Russia website reported that the display was “a gigantic replica of monogrammed luggage owned by Russian Prince Vladimir Orlov.”
Alexander Sidyakin, a deputy with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said he had lodged a complaint with Russia’s anti-trust body, asking it to investigate whether the oversized luggage was illegally on Red Square. “This surely violates the law on advertising. It’s definitely contrary to all our understandings of what is possible, and what is not, on the territory of Red Square,” Mr. Sidyakin said.
The arrival of the suitcase comes just two weeks after performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones in what he said was a protest against the “apathy, political indifference and fatalism of Russian society.”
Some connected the two displays and wondered at the direction their country is headed in. “Strange place, Red Square,” wrote Twitter user Sergei Nechaev. “Our ancestors built the Kremlin cathedrals and [Lenin’s] mausoleum. Their descendants nailed testicles to the pavement and built giant suitcases.”