The most important event this winter was the opening of
the First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. "Dialectics of Hope" (29 January to 28 February 2005) at the
Lenin Museum, Shchusev Museum of Architecture and the Vorobievy Gory underground station.
The First Moscow Biennale took up the program of eastward expansion, launched two decades ago following the fundamental geopolitical redivision of the world.
Go West – the famous appeal of the Pet Shop Boys once actively supported by Russian, Chinese, Cuban and other artists – was gradually replaced by the slogan
Go East, giving rise to such events as the Havana and Shanghai Biennales. Moscow has at long last joined this post-ideological club.
The title of the Biennale,
"Dialectics of Hope", comes from the book of the same name by famous Russian sociologist
Boris Kagarlitsky, though this fact was strangely absent from the catalogue and other printed information. This may have been related to Kagarlitsky’s open letter, published shortly before the opening, in which he denied any affiliation with the event, stating that the title of his radical, left-wing book should not be linked to the right-wing language of power. Despite this letter, the Biennale opened under Kagarlitsky’s revolutionary and poetic title, reflecting the current nostalgia for ethical ideals which seem to have been lost by contemporary Russia.
Lenin Museum. Entrance to the First Moscow Biennale. Photo: First Moscow Biennale
Alexander Shaburov and Konstantin Skotnikov with Lenin’s double in front of the
Small Folk installation at the Lenin Museum, 2005. Photo: Sergey Bratkov
Moscow’s political role as the capital of the evil empire during
the Cold War and one of the world’s most expensive cities after
Perestroika was particularly stressed by the curators. Six
internationally renowned curators were involved in the
organization of this comparatively small event (the Biennale
showed works by forty-one artists from twenty-two countries).
The First Moscow Biennale was curated by
Rosa Martinez, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Daniel Birnbaum, Nicolas
Bourriaud, Iara Boubnova and
Joseph Backstein. There were
initially seven curators,
but the sudden resignation of Russia’s most renowned curator, Victor Misiano,
reduced the number of committee members and aroused heated
debate in the national press. The First Moscow Biennale received
$ 2,500,000 from the national budget, no small sum for
contemporary Russia, which may prove to be one of the largest
ever state investments in contemporary art. Western critics and
curators asked why the organizers had failed to attract any
Russian investors, particularly when they are becoming
increasingly involved in the contemporary art market. Another
question could be read in the eyes of their Russian colleagues
during the opening ceremony at the dusty old Lenin Museum, which
looked as though it had been taken by storm. The nailed-up
constructions for installations seemed to reflect the mute
amazement of the art critics and curators: what was the money
actually spent on?
Biennale’s official program only included six Russian projects,
all of which were represented at the Lenin Museum. Incoming
spectators first saw an installation by the
Blue Noses group of artists, in which small images
of the artists and their friends – unimportant people
copulating, defecating, shouting at each other and striking out
wildly – were projected onto the bottoms of pasteboard boxes.
This installation was one of the most successful at the 8th Art
Moscow in spring 2004. At the Lenin Museum, the small and humble
personality of Lenin proved exceedingly popular. Deprived of his
museum and the guards of honor in front of his mausoleum, Lenin
rolled over restlessly in the box.
Blue Noses. Lenin. From the Small Folk series, 2005. Mixed media, video. Courtesy of the artists
In his Metamorphosis wall painting, Russian artist
Alexei Kallima combined Post-Sots Art ideology and New Romanticism. A Chechen fighter and a Russian soldier joined in a mortal dance-fight stylized as Kill Bill, while their bodies formed the hammer and sickle, the old Soviet symbol of peaceful and fruitful work. Kallima grew up in Grozny and moved to Moscow to represent the Chechen theme in his art. The question, however, is whether the old Soviet symbol and the heroes of a contemporary armed conflict are recognizable within the international art context.
Metamorphosis, 2005. Wall painting. Photo: First Moscow Biennale. Courtesy of the artist
paranoid fear gripping contemporary Moscow, a city
periodically shaken by terrorist attacks and subject to a
tough passport and registration regime, was the topic of the
witty This is not a Bomb objects by David Ter-Oganyan,
winner of this year’s Black Square national prize. The
series consisted of eighteen objects placed in inconspicuous
corners of the museum. The objects included tins of tomatoes
and zucchini and a bin with a clockwork mechanism.
computer animation by the Blue Soup group was also a metaphor of
suspicion. In the basement of the Lenin Museum, these Moscow
artists created a fusion of Hitchcock’s and Kubrick’s suspense
with Stalinist-like ideological valetudinarianism. They showed
short animation films created in the fashion of traditional
horror films – you see a bright light flashing suddenly and
observe black liquid filling the space – in which the action
takes place in the Soviet political interior of the 1930s-50s.
This is not a Bomb, 2005. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: First Moscow Biennale
At the Lenin Museum, Russian hits competed with international
Carlos Garaicoa Manso (Cuba) combined Soviet postage
stamps with images from Cuban propaganda art. He placed his
series in the philatelist showcases of the Lenin Museum among an
To Transform the Political Speech in Fact, Finally.
Hundreds of postcards bearing the images of meta-imperial state
signs were sent out in both Russia and Cuba.
To represent the
work of Chinese artist
Cao Fei, the curators chose her ideological installation
Father, devoted to the artist’s father, a sculptor who
specialized in the interminable multiplication of images of Deng
Politics which used to be the hottest topic of discussion in Russia
several years ago no longer scandalize either the public or mass
media. Neither was anyone shocked by the
Zapf de Pipi interactive installation by the Austrian group
Gelatin – a plywood unheated toilet erected in the
yard of the Lenin Museum. The public was invited to contribute
to the growth of a huge urine icicle by pissing into a specially
provided bin. One day after the opening, a demonstration was
held outside the Lenin Museum, only not against contemporary
art. Hungry pensioners showed their disapproval of social
reforms and protested against the monetarization of the
exemptions they used to enjoy on public transport and the
purchase of certain medicines. They came to the Lenin Museum out
of sheer habit, as if trying to find protection in the past.
Gelatin (Austria). Zapf de Pipi, 2005. Mixed media. Photo: First Moscow Biennale. Courtesy of the artists
The past was the main theme of an installation by
Christian Boltanski (France) entitled Odessa’s Ghosts. A dark garment swaying in the wind in the yard of the Museum of Architecture seemed to represent the ghosts of his grandmother and grandfather, who had once emigrated from Odessa. Boltanski was one of three special guests invited to take part in the Biennale. The two other mega-stars were famous American video artist
Bill Viola and Russia’s most recognized artist Ilya Kabakov. Viola’s
The Greeting, which was shown a year ago at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, moved to the
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Finally, one of Kabakov’s first experiments in “total installation”,
16 Ropes, was exhibited at his former studio on Sretensky Boulevard.
16 Ropes, 1984. Installation at the artist’s former studio on Sretensky Boulevard, Moscow, 2005
The Museum of Architecture has been actively working with contemporary art for quite a long time and looked much more habitable than the Lenin Museum. The official program included a number of video works, among them
Leave by German artist Clemens von Wedermeyer. Addressing the absurdist procedure associated with the crossing of state borders, this film was shot in Berlin with the participation of Russian emigrants living in Germany. The procedure proved so familiar to every Russian citizen that most visitors were sure the work was made by their compatriot.
Downtown, 2004. On the wall: Work by Gor Chakhal. Installation at Russia-2, Central House of Artists, Moscow. Photo: Marat Guelman Gallery
Before the opening of the Biennale, one of the curators said in an
interview that four topics had been censored in the run-up to the
event – the Orthodox religion, anti-Semitism, Putin and Chechnya (though she later officially retracted her statement at the press conference). Some of these topics were nevertheless present in the official program.
A scandal broke out at one of the parallel Biennale projects (there were thirty of them in total). This was
Russia-2, curated by the Marat Guelman Gallery. The galley owner and artists
Oleg Kulik, Vasily Tsagolov, Gor Chakhal and the Blue Noses group were sued for “kindling religious dissent” and the “anti-government” nature of their work. Oleg Kulik’s
Bus Stop was a standard bus stop bearing an image of a pregnant suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt against the background of a ramshackle monument. The image replaced the usual advertising poster. The installation was accused of being sacrilegious.
Fountain. From the Roaming Bullet project, 2004. Object (elastic, sealing foam and acrylic). On the wall:
Troika (Alexander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubossarsky). Russia-2, Central House of Artists, Moscow. Photo: Marat Guelman Gallery
Tolstoy and Hens, 1997--2004. Wooden box, wax figure, live chickens. Installation at StarZ, Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of the artist
The Museum of Contemporary Art presented an ironical and, at the same time, respectable exhibition called
StarZ. Oleg Kulik contributed a life-size waxwork figure of Leo Tolstoy, the star of Russian literature, sitting under a hen coop with live chickens. The chickens were crapping on the writer as he bent over his desk.
Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe exhibited photographs in which he assumeds the images of stars. The star duet of painters,
Alexander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubossarsky, whose works have recently been purchased by renowned British collector Charles Saatchi, showed part of their heritage.
AES group portrayed the digital stars of the Brave New World.
Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe. 2005. Installation at StarZ, Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Sergey Bratkov. Courtesy of the artist
Olga Chernysheva. From the
Plots project, 2004. Light-box. Invasion exhibition. Courtesy of Multimedia Complex of Actual Arts
There were four openings each day in Moscow throughout the week.
The Multimedia Complex of Actual Arts presented a special project called
Invasion. Curated by Olga Sviblova, the exhibition showed works by
Michal Rovner and a new work by AES+F – digital tortures reflecting the recent story of Abu-Grabe.
Invasion united Grigory Bruskin and Maria Serebryakova, Olga Chernysheva and
Alexander Ponomarev, Andrey Bartenev and even Robert Mapplethorpe, whose works from the extremely successful Guggenheim-Hermitage collaboration
Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition exhibition at the Hermitage (curators
Arkady Ippolitov and Germano Celant) moved to Moscow. A historical exhibition entitled
Accomplices opened at the State Tretyakov Gallery. Curator
Andrei Yerofeyev presented unique archive materials showing the transition of artists from the time when they were creating only for themselves or their close friends to the time of their “work for the world”, as this was coined at the conference by
Dmitry Prigov, one of the accomplices. Besides the numerous Moscow groups, the St Petersburg art scene was represented by
The New Artists, Pop-Mechanics, Necrorealism, Neo-Academism,
Artistic Will and Fabric of Found Clothes, created by the artists’ joint efforts, thus reviving the vibrant creative atmosphere of the pre-capitalist period.
AES+F (Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich, Yevgeny Svyatsky and Vladimir Fridkes).
Last Riot, 2005. Invasion exhibition. Courtesy of Multimedia Complex of Actual Arts
Human Project was a common undertaking by the State Centers for Contemporary Art based in St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Ekaterinburg and Kalinigrad (curators
Marina Koldobskaya, Maria Korosteleva, Anna Matveyeva, Lyubov Saprykina and
Arseny Sergeyev). The project, whose title the curators borrowed from artist Kerim Ragimov, was divided into “dark” and “light” parts. In its “dark” and most spectacular part, one could watch video installations, including those by the
PROVMYZA group from Nizhny Novgorod and by ESCAPE from Moscow that will represent Russia at the 51st Venice Biennale this year (see details below in the present Newsletter).
Vyacheslav Mizin and Alexander Shaburov. Special project for
The (possibly) last ArtKlyazma festival opened on one of the frostiest days.
ArtKlyazma was founded at the initiative of artists Alexander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubossarsky in one of the most picturesque areas outside Moscow
– a former rest home near the Klyazma Reservoir. ArtKlyazma has been held for three years running, traditionally on the first weekend in September (see the report in Newsletter 3). This time around, the curators
Vladimir Dubossarsky and Olga Lopukhova decided to coincide
ArtKlyazma with the First Moscow Biennale. In spite of the often voiced fears that few people would venture outside the city in the middle of winter, the extreme conditions – a combination of frost, hooch and heroism – brought out the delight of intrepid viewers and a cheerful feeling of fellowship..
At the opening ceremony of the
Gender Troubles exhibition (curated by Lyudmila Bredikhina),
Lisa Morozova (a member of the ESCAPE group) walking around naked, her eyes sellotaped so that she could only see by means of a video camera filming everyone the artist approached. This show was particularly distinguished by its humor, which saved gender issues from moralizing.
The young artists’ show
No Comment? Art of Young Russian Artists (curated by Yulia Aksenova and
Elena Zaitseva and supported by the EK ArtBureau art production center) opened on a new non-profit place for art – an abandoned factory. Independent of both the city authorities and private capital, this site is expected to stay open for at least five years.
Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe. The Ideal Couple, 2005. Color photo. Gender Troubles, Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of XL Gallery
A special project called Apartment Exhibitions: Yesterday and Today enjoyed its own special place in the program of events. For details on this exhibition, see
Nikita Alexeyev’sinterview in the present issue of the Newsletter.
Almost every leading gallery prepared a special exhibition for the opening of the Biennale.
XL Gallery opened CoMutation – a show by Aristarkh Chernyshov and
Vladislav Efimov, a famous duo working in new media. The
Aidan Gallery presented young artist Rostan Tavasiev, who participated in the official program of the Biennale.
Stella Art Gallery held three exhibitions – Ilya & Emilia Kabakov,
Anatoly Osmolovsky and George Pusenkoff. M’ARS gallery
organized the Art Digital 2004 international festival (curator
Antonio Geusa). The recently opened RuArts Gallery held the first Moscow solo exhibition of
Yevgeny Yufit. The Moscow branch of the Gary Tatintsian Gallery was opened in collaboration with
Marina Loshak at a most luxurious location.
Moscow was overwhelmed by the countless events and new persons. The First Moscow Biennale attracted the directors of the world’s largest art fairs, such as Art Basel, FIAC and Frieze, as well as important collectors and art critics. The next Biennale will take place in 2007 and will be curated by the same international committee, which offers hope for better organization. The question is whether the Moscow Biennale will be able to outgrow the exoticism of the post-communist empire and become a regular event in the international art calendar.
Romilly Eveleigh, a journalist in Moscow writing for the Moscow Times, has kindly prepared an interview with artist
Nikita Alekseev about his involvement in famous APT-ART movement.
As a special project of the Moscow Biennale, curators from the
State Humanitarian University scheduled a month-long program of events this February under the banner
Apartment Exhibitions: Yesterday and Today. EK ArtBureau’s contribution focused on the series of displays held at the flat of
Nikita Alexeyev between 1982 and 1984, collectively known as
Though more generic apartment exhibitions had sprung up before, APT-ART was notable for several reasons – its mixture of highbrow art and private domesticity; its preference for accommodating a wide range of heterogeneous styles; its sheer disregard for traditional models of exhibition layouts and the sanctity of artworks. As photographs from the period show, a typical exhibition would see pieces by
SZ, Toadstools, Zhigalov, Monastirsky and others hung floor to ceiling, in a space no bigger than the average bathroom.
This interview took place at the EK ArtBureau shortly after its opening. Alexeyev himself – artist, former member of Collective Actions and now a journalist – discusses his memories of the creative stew that was APT-ART, how it came about, the public reaction and its eventual downfall.
Installation at the APT-ART exhibition, EK ArtBureau
How would you define APT-ART? A gallery, a group of artists or an individual?
First, you have to cast your mind back to the early 1980s. I would compare it to a very dull, hopeless, endless, dark autumn. We just didn’t want to live like that. The only solution, because there was no possibility to hold exhibitions or concerts, was to create everything ourselves. A small sub-cultural thing which would function the way we wanted it to. I cannot say it was a gallery, it was so small. It was the apartment where I was living. It was perhaps a prototype of a nightclub. Also a style of life.
What sort of life?
Free. Having fun. But at the same time, it was also a class where some ideas and intellectual things were developed.
Were you still a member of the Collective Actions group at this time?
Nikita Alexeyev: No. It is also interesting that APT-ART was a kind of reaction to this very intellectual and dry, black-and-white conceptualism. We wanted something more colorful and funny. We were tired, I was tired, let’s say, of these conceptual restrictions.
But of course, there were other outlets at that time. Why did you set up on your own?
Nikita Alexeyev: These official exhibitions were inaccessible to us. We were excluded from this structure. It was not me or my friends that invented these apartment exhibitions. Back in the 1970s, we already had them, even in the 1960s. Anyhow, in the Soviet Union, it was a private space where, in principle, anyone could do whatever he wanted, as long as it did not directly break the law. But the difference between APT-ART and these apartments was that the APT-ART exhibitions were more or less regular. So it was more or less like a real gallery. We had a program, we had openings, and almost everybody could come and see them.
Who came up with the idea?
Alexeyev: I think about three people. Friends of mine, artists. Mikhail Roshal and Sven Gundlakh. But of course it was team work.
Where was it? Was it also your living space?
Near Leninsky Prospect. The space was the same size as this [EK ArtBureau] exhibition. Most of us did not have apartments of our own. People lived with their parents or did not have anywhere at all, living from place to place. I was lucky because I had this tiny apartment, and I could do something with it. I had a chance just because, well, my parents had quite a big apartment and when I grew old enough we changed it. It was originally a four-room apartment; then my parents had three rooms and I had my own one room.
Installation at the APT-ART exhibition, EK ArtBureau
Did it have opening hours?
Yes, during an exhibition, which lasted something like ten days or two weeks. Every day, if I remember correctly, from 2 pm.
What kind of people would come?
Mostly, of course, people belonging to this circle of unofficial culture. But from different generations. Young people and older people. The KGB also came sometimes. They said they were the police. They came one morning to an exhibition, confiscated some works and destroyed the show. I do not want to exaggerate anything, but…
Do you think that this has been exaggerated, that aspect?
I wasn’t imprisoned. Some of my friends were sent to the army, but I wasn’t imprisoned.
I can say to you now that it is really funny, and it was pretty funny then also, that the authorities paid so much attention to such a small and stupid thing as an exhibition in a private flat, put together by a bunch of young artists. And it is really weird because I am sure that they spent lots of money on this. I cannot forget, one morning, how I went out and saw two black Volga cars standing outside the house, looking up at me. And it cost lots of money, you see? A team of agents following me, listening to my telephone calls and so on.
Was it because of what was on show?
Nikita Alexeyev: They didn’t really give a damn about what was on show. Of course, it was a little subversive. But this dull autumn of the early eighties was awful also because the powers of the KGB had to work. They had already sent anyone dangerous to prison or into exile, but the machine had to continue functioning. And to function they had to find somebody. And that was us.
What was a typical exhibition like?
Nikita Alexeyev: They were different. The first APT-ART exhibition, I would call it – though we didn’t have this term then – a “total installation”, because it was a mixture of everything. Something like ten artists participated and everywhere was absolutely stuffed with works. There were works on the ceiling, there were works on the floor. Something would be hanging in the air. It was a very dense space.
Some of the shows were more, let’s say, minimalist. There was an exhibition called
Victory Over the Sun dedicated to the tragedy when a Soviet fighter shot down a Korean Boeing in 1984. It was held in darkness. There were no lamps, no lights in the space. We invited persons in threes, giving them electric torches. There were some works, but it was more of a performance, because one of the artists,
Sven Gundlakh, was lying in the bath in water covered in white lilies. Some people were sitting in the corner eating something in the dark. We covered all the windows with black paper.
And how many visitors did you normally get?
Nikita Alexeyev: As far as I remember, the maximum, which was really strange for such a place, without any advertising and so on, was something like five hundred people over ten days.
What did your neighbors think about it?
Nikita Alexeyev: It’s funny, because I am really grateful to my neighbors. They were very sympathetic. I don’t know why, but they pardoned all our excesses. You can imagine how noisy it all was.
What did this one-room flat consist of?
Nikita Alexeyev: A bathroom, a kitchen and a tiny hall. For quite a long time, I didn’t have a bed, but an inflatable boat. And I slept in this boat in the middle of the room.
Did you have parties or any music?
Yes, of course. At that time, everything was really intersted in literature, music, fashion, alternative fashion. Some rock musicians would come and play there, sometimes when the exhibition was on. It was unplugged of course.
Who would you say influenced you to take this decision to open a gallery? How did you know about what was going on in other cities worldwide?
We had friends from France, Britain, America and Germany. They brought some information, music, books and so on. At the same time, I think that APT-ART was an original thing – part of the universal processes, but born out of necessity in Moscow.
Can you remember anything that you read about or saw pictures of?
Well, we had some magazines like Art in America or Art News, Flash Art. Thanks to friends, we had some books and some recordings. As an example, Laurie Anderson was really important for me at the beginning of the eighties. Me and Sven Gundlakh had a long discussion about who was better – Nina Hagen or Laurie Anderson.
Were you keen on textual works or works that had some sort of
critical essence to them? Or would you take anything?
Anything. We didn’t want to be political dissidents. We
were artistic dissidents. We wanted to be artists, not political
activists. We understood very well that this was not in our
competence – we were artists. We just wanted to do what we
wanted to do, thinking that it was not against the law.
And why did it come to an end?
Nikita Alexeyev: Two reasons. Firstly, because it became
a little bit dangerous. I was summoned by the KGB, who explained
to me that if I did not stop, it would be bad for me and
everybody else. That was one reason. Another reason was that we
simply felt that APT-ART was not all that successful. Like with
a music group that looks quite successful from the outside, its
members understood that the project was finished.
Installation at the APT-ART exhibition, EK ArtBureau
The Newsletter again presents the opinion of artists on exhibitions in which they have taken part
Famous Russian artist
Oleg Kulik, one of the initiators and participants of the StarZ project, gave his opinion on the First Moscow Biennale.
The First Moscow Biennale has recorded an important change. Our art has moved away from the individual dimension back to the collective one. Communalism once brought about extreme individualism. At the current moment, it is being replaced by a common consciousness, through which the artistic community is beginning to recognize its own interests.
This seems to explain the phenomenal success of the Biennale collective projects that showed a clear program, one that was both artistically and socially significant. Such projects include
Accomplices, Human Project, StarZ and Gender Troubles.
Russia-2 was another, though it demonstrated too clearly the hand of the curator-creator, very much in the style of the early 1990s. This was one reason why individual projects were underestimated.
Bus Stop, 2005. Mixed media. Installation at Russia-2, Central House of Artists, Moscow. Courtesy of Marat Guelman Gallery
Oleg Artyushkov contributed to one of the parallel programs at the fourth international festival
Fashion and Style in Photography, curated and organized by Olga Sviblova in Moscow (14 March to 14 May 2005). He gave us his views on the various exhibitions.
The festival offered an extremely interesting range of photography. Despite the overload of glamour, the exhibitions on the subject of cinema – the main theme of this year’s festival – evoked an exceedingly light sensation. I enjoyed the simple and refined retro photographs of
Horst. It is particularly important that such classics of modern art as
Sarah Moon and Joel-Peter Witkin not only exhibited in Moscow, but also held masterclasses there. I attended the masterclass of
Alain Fleischer, who talked about his center, where
Jean-Luc Godard works.
Out of the Russian works, I was particularly taken by Aidan Salakhova’s
My Bride. A photograph of a bride was illuminated from the side and from behind, so that when you approached it, your shadow fell across the image. The technique and the subject, which is always alienated, evoked a double alienation. But my shadow let me enter into a personal relationship with the bride – something prohibited in all traditional cultures – overturning the normal relationship between the viewer and the work.
My Bride, 2005. Video. Courtesy of the artist
As part of the accompanying program, I exhibited
Lili Marlene – a new series of eight photographs of two German porcelain dolls. I was delighted by the feedback from my viewers, who were convinced that they had discovered my secret. They told me that I had photographed real models in masks and reworked the images in Photoshop.
Alexandra Grigorenko is an art critic from St Petersburg. She contributes to
Khudozhestvenny Zhurnal (Arts Magazine) and is currently writing a PhD on the subject
Advertisement of the Social Order in Visual Arts After World War II in the USSR and USA. She chose the best recent exhibitions for this issue of the Newsletter.
The First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art
29 January to 28 February 2005
The major event of the last six months was undoubtedly the First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. It left the Moscow public in a state of cultural shock. Although it was not the first occasion when we could see contemporary art in Moscow, in our country a large-scale event is always required before a phenomenon wins recognition. When there is a grandiose event, the public wakes up, starts stirring and queuing. Government officials make speeches at the opening ceremony and we witness the miracle of the legitimization of contemporary art in Russia. Perhaps we can expect another miracle from subsequent Biennales – the miracle of the consolidation of Russian and Western contemporary art in a common context. That reason alone is enough to make me consider the First Moscow Biennale a success.
Oleg Kulik. Installation at StarZ, Museum of Modern Art. 2005. Photo: Sergey Bratkov. Courtesy of the artist
Pro and Pro
ProjectStarZ at the Museum of
Contemporary Art on Yermolavesky Lane was one of most successful. Regarding starts, they were not numerous, which luckily saved the project from huddle and verbosity. Oleg Kulik and his literary and zoological installations were shown on the top (third) floor. One of them, Leo Tolstoy’s wax figure with live chickens crapping on his head, made all questions about the hope of some dialectics unnecessary (the name of the Biennale was
"Dialectics of Hope"). Other floors were occupied by the AEC group, Dubossarsky & Vinogradov and Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe. Each had his own floor and concept. No partitions were necessary, everything fitted together extremely well.
Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe. Museum of Modern Art. 2005. Photo: Sergey Bratkov. Courtesy of the artist
Art-Klyazma project was a major event. One of our compatriots, Ilya Kabakov, invented the genre of total installation. At the
Klyazma, our other compatriots (Olga Lopukhova and Vladimir Dubossarsky) seemed to invent the genre of a total happening. The happening was based around the people who came to visit an open-air contemporary art exhibition. It was extremely cold and visitors warmed themselves at fires carefully arranged by the organizers. They drank vodka and brushed the snow away from the art works. It was a truly ecstatic mass initiation. Some were sacrificing their health.
Olga Chernysheva’s Zone of Happiness Marble Palace, State Russian Museum
This exhibition gave me the idea for a new project. This idea is to unite, in a single show, Dutch and Flemish genre paintings from the seventeenth century and Olga Chernysheva’s video films. The artist, by the way, lives and works both in Moscow and Amsterdam. She lacks all the qualities to which popular-minded artists usually aspire. She scorns deliberate aestheticism, critical pathos or an analytical and scrupulous study of everyday life. This brings about the rare feeling of air and freedom in her video films and drawings. Art becomes weightlessness, while life turns into a random discovery.
A renowned Russian art critic and curator from Moscow,
Lyudmila Bredikhina is one of the leading writers on female identity in Russia (,
). She has chosen the best exhibitions of winter 2005/2006 for the current issue of the
The major event of the season was undoubtedly the First Moscow Biennale. Among events that preceded its opening, I would mention the regular and diverse initiatives of
ARTStrelka (Vladimir Dubossarsky and Olga Lopukhova) and the first exhibition of the RuArts Foundation, which opened at the
Gallery of Actual Art on Ostozhenka (curated by Antonio Geusa). The latter event was distinguished by its unprecedented scale and utter absence of any regularity.
First Moscow Biennale is primarily an event of local significance and local assignment. This is why I want to mention the serious message and enlightening pathos of
Human Project (State Centers for Contemporary Art based in St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Ekaterinburg with the support of the pARTner Gallery). What was surprising was not so much the high quality of the exhibited works, but its clear address to the national audience, mainly the young. The detailed annotations and comparatively clear meanings seemed a viable alternative to the deliberate absence of addressee and the unarticulated nature of the exhibition at the Lenin Museum.
The pathos of enlightenment and the interest of the local audience evoked great delight in, on the one hand, the demonstration of the works of Viola, Rovner and Boltanski in Moscow and, on the other, the interest shown towards our own recent history (Accomplices). Andrei Yerofeyev’s retro exhibition was spirited enough to lend “museum” status to the freedom of the late Soviet period and Perestroika (one can hardly feel the difference between them nowadays). However, the “accompliceship” of the 1990s and the turn of the millennium clearly require additional investigation.
The scale and standard of Art Digital 2004: I Click Therefore I Am at the M’Ars Center for Contemporary Art (curated by Antonio Geusa) were truly surprising. The sophisticated cinematic and computer games of Feng Mengbo (China) were shown alongside the cinematic meat grinder of “leftie” Sergey Teterin.
Symbiotics – a rat’s brain cell painting Black Square in a businesslike fashion – demonstrated Konstantin Khudyakov’s frightening spirituality.
MEART. Semi-Living Artist and Black Square. art_digital_2004 project, M’Ars Center for Contemporary Art. Courtesy of the artists
The StarZ project (AEC+F, Oleg Kulik, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Alexander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubossarsky) looked healthily ambitious. In this sense, it was a necessary component of the first Biennale. Instead of scandalous immodesty, it showed the museum standard of the stars’ works. It also demonstrated the level of a contemporary art museum, which is almost a sensation for Moscow.
Olga Chernysheva’s Zone of Happiness included two video films – The
Unknown and Dionysius Steamer – shown at the Stella Art Gallery after the artist’s solo exhibition at the State Russian Museum (curator Ekaterina Andreyeva). Chernysheva’s films bring out a peculiar recognizable intonation in Russian female video art (I would also add Lyudmila Gorlova’s
Happy Ending to this series).
Olga Chernysheva. Study for the
Zone of Happiness project. State Russian Museum, 2004. Courtesy of the artist
Olga Khoroshilova, philologist and art historian from St
and contributor to
The New World of Art, The Art Journal, The Red 100%, Art and
Times, Art, L’Optimum, Time Out, New York Arts Magazine,
selects the best recent exhibitions for this issue of the
Mikhailovsky Castle, State Russian Museum, 24 November 2004 to 15 January 2005
Sam Taylor-Wood is one of the top YBA, though not that young.
Her exhibition was a sensation for lovers of Brit Art in Russia.
Such famous works as
Crying Men, Suspended Self-Portraits and Falling
were on display together with three videos. Peter Greenaway once
pointed out: “All artists are interested only in three subjects
– life, sex and death.” Sam Taylor-Wood is one of them. Life,
sex and death form the context of her play. Taylor-Wood’s heroes
are trendy partygoers, pop stars, celebrities of all sorts. But
glamour is just a mask concealing apathy, loneliness and a fear
of death. I cannot help noticing that the curators did a damn
good job. It was the right exhibition in the right place – the
Mikhailovsky Castle, which is associated with the murder of the
Russian emperor, Paul I, who was also a complicated,
contradictory and lonely person. Loneliness and death are the
main themes of the exhibited works, though Taylor-Wood
interprets these subjects in a very English manner – with a
great sense of irony and cold detachment.
Strings, 2003. 35 mm film. Courtesy of the artist and Jay Jopling/White Cube, London
Ken, Lydia and Tyler, 1985. Gelatin-silver print. Courtesy of Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints
Hermitage Museum, December 2004 to 16 January 2005
“What could be more scandalous than beauty?” noticed in a somewhat Oscar Wildish manner Arkady Ippolitov, the Russian co-curator of the project along with principal curator Germano Celant of the Guggenheim Museum. The show had actually been proclaimed “scandalous” before it was even opened. The journalists were expecting a “juicy” exhibition full of pornography, black gay SM and all other things naturally, or should I say “unnaturally”, associated with the artist. But they were wrong, completely wrong. Mapplethorpe’s wickedness and uniqueness were strongly doubted by curators. Seventy photographs (from the collection of the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation) were exhibited alongside engravings by sixteenth-century Dutch masters (Jan Muller, Jan Sandrem, Jacob Matama). Each room was dedicated to a specific theme – Analogy
with Mannerism, Analogy with Antiquity, Flowers, The Creation of the World and Death. To make a long story short, Robert Mapplethorpe himself appeared to be the “analogy” of everything. He was shown as a successor of the “classical tradition”, as a Great Pupil of the Great Masters. The exhibition suggested that contemporary art is not as new as one might think – at least from the historical point of view. Parallel to the Hermitage show, the Stella Art Gallery in Moscow held a commercial exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, including the hardcore stuff, which was a real novelty for Russia. The opening was accompanied by a gorgeous catalogue and attended by Michael Ward Stout, President of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
Jacob Matham after Hendrick Goltzius.
The Three Graces (16th century). Courtesy of State Hermitage Museum
Alexander Vinogradov & Vladimir Dubossarsky.
En Plain Air, 1995. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artists.
First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art
28 January to 28 February 2005
It is impossible to give a solid judgment of the First Moscow Biennale in only a few lines. Too many artists, too much noise – one should have visited it purely for this reason alone. An “event” seems to be the right word for the Biennale. Although hardly a sensation, it was much spoken about and criticized.
Human Project, StarZ, Accomplices: Collective and Interactive Works in Russian Art (1960s-2000) and
Russia-2 were worthy of notice. One good thing about the event is that it actually happened.
Futurism. Novecento. Abstraction. Italian Art of the 20th Century
Hermitage Museum, 4 February 2005 to 10 April 2005
The title of the exhibition, Italian art of the twentieth century, says it all. Traditional, successive and logical. History in pictures, so as to say. It is the first major exhibition of Italian twentieth-century art and is surely worth noticing. There you can find everything, from Italian Futurism (Morandi, Depero, Baldesari) to abstraction (Bertelli, De Chirico, Severini) and the Novecento. Ninety paintings and a great way to show your children the history of modern art. The excellent works of Italian Futurism came from the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Rovereto and Trento (). Alberto Sandretti, honorary Russian consul in Venice and well-known collector, who has done so much to support contemporary Russian art, recently presented MART with his extensive collection and library on Russian art to Mart. An exhibition of Soviet porcelain from the Sandretti collection was recently shown at Rovereto.
Thirty Years of Dutch Video Art
Dom Kino, Anna Akhmatova Museum, Interactive Shop, 7 February to 19 March 2005
Although Dutch video art celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2003, its history remains terra incognita for most Russian art lovers. The curators from the National Center for Contemporary Art (St Petersburg) considered it high time to introduce the Russian public to both Dutch video art and the
Montevideo/Time Based Arts Media Art Archive (Netherlands). Together with Heiner Holttappels, director of
Montevideo, they compiled a video program, which was shown at Dom Kino and the Anna Akhmatova Museum. A great opportunity to convince yourself that Dutch and Russian video art are worlds apart.
Arno Coenen and Rene Bosma.
Deus ex Machina, 1996. Video. 15:34 minutes
Anatoly Belkin. Swamp Gold: The Original Version
Hermitage Museum, 21 October 2004 to 16 January 2005
The last, but certainly not the best. This project is worth paying attention to – if only for the sake of learning on the mistakes of others.
Swamp Gold: The Original Version is a great example of how profound and lavish PR can ruin everything. It is a total installation, a visualized story of an archaeological expedition to the marshlands. Artist Anatoly Belkin, creator of the project, and other “archaeologists” discover many strange objects – boats, mummies, plates and golden helmets, to name a few – which were displayed together with route schemes and Belkin’s diaries. The exhibition itself was actually quite interesting and funny (though there were some lapses in its structure). But the project failed – because the Hermitage is a “serious place” for “serious artists”; because Belkin all of a sudden lost his sense of humor; because the press-service made a big deal out of everything. The exhibition seemed to be foolishly pathetic. Belkin, the Atlas, crashed down under the weight of the pediment he was holding and turned into archaeology himself. I wish I were Aesop.
Russian filmmaker and photographer
Yevgeny Yufit from St Petersburg was the Filmmaker in Focus at the
34th International Film Festival Rotterdam 2005 (26 January to 6 February 2005). The festival honored Yufit with the screening of four feature films – including the world premiere of his latest work,
Bipedalism, financed by the Hubert Bals Fund – eight short films and a photo exhibition.
Yufit has been working as a painter, photographer and filmmaker since the early 1980s. One of the most radical Russian contemporary artists, he founded the Necrorealism movement and the first independent studio,
Mzhalalafilm, where he and fellow artists and filmmakers made experimental films. One of the constant themes of his films is experimentation. In his latest movie,
Bipedalism, the idea to improve humans is by crossbreeding them with primates, parodying the utopian plans of Soviet scientists to create a “homo novus”.
Yufut’s first personal exhibition in Moscow, The Frozen Eye-Witness, ran at the RuArts Art Foundation from 1 February to 2 March 2005. This was an overview of the artist’s works, including black and white photographs and films.
Bipedalism. 2004. Courtesy of the artist
On 28 March 2005, the Tagansky District Court in Moscow ruled on the case against the organizers of the
Caution, Religion!(Ostorozhno, religiia) exhibition. Yury Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum and Public Center, and
Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, a member of staff, were convicted of “kindling religious dissent” (Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The court ordered that each of them be fined 100,000 roubles (about $ 3,500). The third accused, artist
Anna Alchuk (Mikhalchuk), for whom the state prosecutor also demanded two years’ imprisonment, was acquitted by the court.
Stop, Religion! opened at the Sakharov Museum and Public Center on 14 January 2003. Forty artists took part in the event. On 18 January, parishioners of the St-Nicolas-in-Pyzhi church attended the exhibition and threw black and red paint over the museum walls and exhibits. The visitors were accused of hooliganism, a charge dismissed in summer 2003. Instead, criminal information was brought against the organizers of the exhibition – Yury Samodurov, Lyudmila Vasilovskaya and artist Anna Mikhalchuk. The prosecutor demanded three years’ imprisonment for Samodurov and two years’ imprisonment for Vasilovskaya and Mikhalchuk.
24 to 29 May 2005. 9th Art Moscow. The international art fair opens at the Central House of Artists, 10 Krymsky Val, Moscow ()
12 June to 6 November 2005. 51st Venice Biennale
Every two years, the artistic community breathlessly follows the choice of curators of the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Unfortunately, no distinct selection process has been formed in Post-Soviet Russia. The selection of the project and curators of the Russian pavilion are usually made much later than the other pavilions. For many years, the curators and artists have been hampered by the absence of the necessary state financing. In 1997, artists
Komar and Melamid were not allowed to represent Russia at the 47th Venice Biennale as they were not Russian citizens. Their project was nevertheless shown in the Russian pavilion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, alongside Sergei Bugayev (Africa)’s
MIR: Made in the Twentieth Century.
Olga Lopukhova, executive producer of the ARTKlyazma festival and art director of the new
ARTStrelka center, is one of the curators of the Russian pavilion at the upcoming 51st Venice Biennale. She has kindly agreed to answer Newsletter’s questions on the Russian pavilion.
Olga Lopukhova and Lyubov Saprykina. Curators of
the Russian pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale
Newsletter: Olga, it seems to have become a tradition to entrust the Russian pavilion to Moscow-based curators, who usually present artists from Moscow. What was the selection process like this year?
Olga Lopukhova: This year, Lyubov Saprykina, art director of the Nizhny Novgorod department of the
State Center for Contemporary Art, was appointed a curator of the Russian pavilion. This happened shortly before the opening of the First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, at the end of January 2005. Regarding this choice, Lyubov Saprykina joked that this time they had selected “a provincial, a woman and a Mongol-Tartar.” In fact, discussions on her candidacy started as early as the middle of last summer. The procedure of appointment – as opposed to selection based on a curator’s project – was used by the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications because it could not convene a meeting of the Expert Committee, which lost its legitimate authority in the course of the recent reorganization of the Ministry of Culture. I think that the representatives of the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications, who have long since recognized the necessity for new names and ideas, made a strategic choice. All the more so as the activities of the Nizhny Novgorod State Center for Contemporary Art, which helped to create a real “center” of contemporary art in Russia’s third capital, are truly unique. As unique as the magnificent Arsenal building in the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, which they appropriated for contemporary art purposes. It was Lyubov Saprykina herself who invited me to be a co-curator of the project.
The general idea we were sticking to, while choosing the artists, belongs to Lyubov Saprykina. She took into account several aspects with which I agreed. The first was that it is not all that interesting to exhibit well-established stars at the Biennale, since their strategies and the outcome of their work can be by and large predicted. We wanted to show artists whose work is professionally articulated, yet who are at the same time unpredictable and not strongly engaged.
The second aspect we agreed upon was that we should not look for individual artists, but for interdisciplinary groups, whose members have different educations, conflicting point of views, different genders and ages – groups whose members regard the problems of communication as relevant and natural.
The third aspect was that these two groups of artists were selected by experts last year for a project exhibited at the Nizhny Novgorod Arsenal (I was one of the members of the Expert Committee, so this was my own choice too) and the exhibition that resulted from this selection was a true event. When Lyubov suggested that I should become a co-curator of the project for the Russian pavilion, we discussed all possible candidacies again and finally agreed that we would work with these artists. As far as particular projects are concerned, they were formulated in the course of our discussions with the artists.
Newsletter: In Venice, will you show the Surfing & Vertigo project, which was exhibited at the Nizhny Novgorod Arsenal? What other projects by these two groups of artists, mutual and separate, will be shown at the Russian pavilion?
Olga Lopukhova: The artists are working on entirely new projects for the Russian pavilion. The general idea of our exhibition is focused on the dialectics of interaction between those who create a work of art and those who view it or, more precisely, those who partake of its completion. In other words, we are constructing a discussion about communication between artists and viewers, which is, to our mind, a topical issue – not only for Russia, where contemporary art is a blind spot on the cultural map, but also for the global situation in art.
Communication and discommunication is a central topic for the work of the young Moscow artists who form the
Escape Program. By eroding the borders between the private and the public, the artists offer various forms of “implication” for the viewers. They suggest that viewers should look into the artists’ private, everyday lives, purchase the artists’ personal belongings or unauthorized copies of works by famous Russian authors, take part in the ceremony of the “invention of the motherland”, etc. The artists organize an alternative travel agency, where they play the roles of guides and instructors. The Quartette video film is focused on the impossibility and reluctance of hearing and understanding each other. In this film, a video representation of musicians playing a piece by Beethoven is accompanied by the sound of a Shostakovich Quartette.
Courtesy of the artists and NCCA, Nizhny Novgorod.
In the Giddying video installation, the artists create a special object, a rusty iron bin, to meet the viewers
tete-a-tete. The picture of total alienation encountered there by a viewer, after having queued for some time, poses pessimistic questions. In their
Too Long to Escape interactive video installation, created exclusively for the Venice Biennale, the artists offer visitors an interactive game, in which they move towards the viewers at a speed directly proportional to the number of visitors entering the room. This attempt to address the problem by means of simple arithmetic (the greater the number of viewers, the higher the speed of the oncoming motion) reveals the relativity and formality of mass strategies. Having ironized the constant desire of artists to win the public sympathy, the creators proceed to question the very status of interactive strategies. They ask whether they are in fact sheer simulations of dialogue used to conceal the passive solitude of a viewer.
For Galina Myznikova and Sergey Provorov, two artists from Nizhny Novgorod whose work is placed in the actual zone of the public space, the problem of communication with viewers turns out to be utterly non-dramatic. The artists take the public for a mere consumer of visual and information products. The project, which they started many years ago, lies on the borderline between public art, advertising, design and experimental cinema. As they are not inclined to dissociate themselves from the public, they try to remain within the project by combining the positions of a consumer and a cold-eyed analyst involved in the critical assessment of the situation
This repeated to-and-fro movement inspires Galina Myznikova and Sergey Provorov to work on a social project focused on innovative means of communication. This is the core of the
Idiot Wind installation, which they will show in Venice. Finding him/herself in a specific aero- and audio-environment, a viewer becomes the main hero of the work. He/she experiences the power that art has over his/her body and mind. Being able to easily touch the wind and catch it in the hands in the first section of the pavilion, the viewer becomes dependent on the growing power of airflows in the second section. The power of physical impact brings about a complex metaphysical experience, while the work’s visual minimalism opens a whole variety of mytho-poetic connotations.
Newsletter: Who finances the project? Who supports it? Have you experienced any specific difficulties related to the geographical shift of the contemporary art center from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod?
Olga Lopukhova: As you can no doubt guess, the state financing is unfortunately extremely limited. The production of technological projects requires large investments. At the moment, we are waiting for the decision of a potential sponsor, a large Russian company. Regarding the difficulties of communication between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, I cannot recall any so far. All of us have telephones, including mobile phones, and e-mail accounts. And, finally, it does not take all that long to get from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod by rail. Four or five hours on train – it’s even closer than St Petersburg!
15 to 20 June 2005. Art 36 Basel
Samuel Keller, director of Art Basel has kindly agreed to answer Newsletter’s questions on Russian participation at Art 36 Basel and contemporary art in Russia.
Samuel Keller, director of Art Basel. Courtesy of Art Basel
Newsletter: Mr. Keller, you are the director of the most important art fair, the famous Art Basel. To participate at Art Basel is a must for every well-established gallery and a dream for any young gallery owner. This year, for the first time, a Russian gallery, XL from Moscow, is participating in Art 36 Basel. Do you expect Russian galleries could become regular participants at Art Basel?
Samuel Keller: The Art Basel selection committee has been following recent developments on the Russian contemporary art scene with great interest. There is a vibrant art scene, including artists, galleries, collectors, curators, critics, museums, art festivals, biennials and art fairs. Every year, we welcome an increasing number of Russian art professionals and collectors at our art shows in Basel and Miami. Now we feel the time is right to give one of the most exciting Russian art galleries the opportunity to show their artists to a worldwide audience at Art Basel. We hope they will be successful and eventually become regular participants. Hopefully, the presentation of the
XL Gallery will encourage the jury to select more Russian galleries in the future. Although there are several interesting galleries in Russia, this may take some time. Being selected to participate in Art Basel is usually not the first, but the final step, for an international art gallery.
Newsletter: You visited the 8th Art Moscow and, recently, the First Moscow Biennale. What are the perspectives for Art Moscow? How do you visualize the future of the contemporary art market in Russia? How can Russian art contribute to the further development of the international art market?
Samuel Keller: As a foreigner, I feel I don’t know the Russian art market well enough to speculate about its future. I will visit
Art Moscow again this year and observe how it develops its potential. Its perspectives seem to be more dependant on the Russian, rather than the international art market. There are certainly high expectations in the international art market with regard to an increasingly active role of Russian collectors. I also sense a growing Western interest in Russian artists recently, fueled by the
First Moscow Biennale. Generally, the closer a national art market is interconnected with the international one, the more stable it is in economical and political crisis and the faster it is able to grow by benefiting from the worldwide art boom. Therefore, I think that the more Russian artists are exhibited and promoted abroad and the more international artists are shown and collected in Russia, the better it will be for the Russian art scene and its influence in the international art world. Art Basel hopes to serve as a platform to enhance this process.
Newsletter: Contemporary art in Russia is a growing area. During the last twenty years, after Perestroika, classical museums in Russia started to work with contemporary art. Institutes of contemporary art, commercial galleries and international art fairs were organized and the First Moscow Biennale was finally opened. Yet at the same time, there is a belief that Russia missed its chance at the beginning of the 1990s. How do you see the situation nowadays regarding contemporary art in Russia? What do you think about the First Moscow Biennale?
Samuel Keller: I think the Moscow Biennale was important in several ways. Firstly, it marked the renaissance of the Russian contemporary art scene and its integration in the international art world. It clearly created a lot of international attention. Secondly, it was a catalyst for the Russian art scene by creating collaborations between many art institutions from Moscow. The Biennale served as a gateway to discovering Russian artists, galleries, museums, collections, publications and helped to establish new relationships. Furthermore, the Biennale was created jointly by Russian and international artists and curators. It contributed to international exchange, which I mentioned as an important factor for development. Most importantly, the first Moscow Biennale was the first chance for many Russians to see contemporary art by some of today’s most interesting artists, from Russia and around the planet. There are always things that could have been done different and better. But I consider the First Moscow Biennale to be an overall success and look forward to the second one.
XL is one of Russia’s leading galleries. It works with top artists who have participated in such exhibitions as the Venice Biennale and take regular part in such major international art fairs as Art Basel and the Armory Show. In the middle of her preparations for the upcoming
Art 36 Basel, where XL will be the only Russian gallery this year,
Elena Selina, founder and director of XL Gallery, has kindly agreed to answer our questions.
Newsletter: Elena, XL Gallery has been functioning for twelve years. In 1993, when there was hardly any interest in contemporary art in Russia (not to mention the absence of any commercial interest), you created a gallery whose work was mainly focused on conceptual and post-conceptual art. How did you manage to get through the 1990s and maintain a commercial gallery of international standing?
Elena Selina: At that time, the gallery business was in
statu nascendi. We lacked knowledge and experience. When we were opening our gallery, we did not know the basics of the profession and did not even think of the possible consequences. The gallery opened and became well-known on the Moscow art scene, but we realized we had no background. We had to learn as we went along. In order to survive, we had to take any job. We often decorated shops. Publications of catalogues were partly sponsored by the
Soros Foundation. We borrowed money from friends. We wanted to become active players on the Russian art scene, to exhibit important artists and reveal new trends. Looking back now, I cannot really understand how we managed to finance artists’ projects, publish catalogues for each exhibition and to survive, when contemporary art aroused virtually no interest. I would have been unable to do it the second time around. We were younger and more flexible then. I am happy we had such an experience. Now I know for sure that it is possible to survive in the conditions of “tough” capitalism. Our sole purpose was to present an interesting program, which brought us good press and finally gave us the reputation of a respectable gallery. We were not afraid of running risks, we readily lent our projects to national and international museums, we spared neither time nor resources to meet all the curators we had ever heard of and take part in cutting-edge exhibitions. We never economized on participating in international art fairs. We did our best to explain to collectors what contemporary art is. After a while, we started to feel the payoff. And I think the major reason for our success is that we have always regarded and still regard the art we show and represent as one that is worth working with.
Elena Selina, director of XL Gallery
Vladimir Dubossarsky & Alexander Vinogradov.
Art Frieze stand of XL Gallery. Oil on canvas. Collection of Elena Selina
Newsletter: Since its foundation, XL Gallery has shown Moscow conceptualist artists, which used to be a non-commercial phenomenon in principle. You continue to work with conceptualists – suffice it to mention that XL Gallery supported Victor Pivovarov’s exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum. Moscow conceptualism has become a respectable historical trend in contemporary art. How high, in fact, is the demand for such art on the international market, not counting its universally acknowledged star Ilya Kabakov? Which members of the conceptual circle do you work with
Elena Selina: We do not work with Moscow conceptualism as a whole – we only collaborate with certain members of its circle. XL Gallery is more focused on post-conceptualism, whose basic feature is a high degree of individualism and a somewhat different relationship with text. Moscow conceptualism is a collective phenomenon, where the visual text and actual text enjoy equal significance. In contrast, I am interested in the individual paths that artists tread outside, rather than inside, any given art system. Strong individuality surpasses any preset norms. Our interest is focused on the artists whose work undermines the context. And, I should confess, the visual side of a project is very important for me. That is why we only work with those representatives of the conceptual circle whose art combines textual and visual elements in a harmonious proportion – more precisely, those whose art creates an interesting visual text. This is
Igor Makarevich, Irina Nakhova and Victor Pivovarov. All of them are well-known on the international art market. Sure, none of them is as popular as
Kabakov and none of them is likely to match his success, but each of them is nevertheless a recognized and reputable artist. As far as respectability is concerned, I associate it with a halt in an artist’s development. It is much more exiting when an artist is experimenting, developing and dissenting. I feel more respect towards “living classics” – those who remain in the process of search and change. Though Moscow conceptualism has its own circle of admirers, this esoteric phenomenon is not exactly in great demand on an international scale. Moscow conceptualism is hermetic, essentially stagnated and deliberately “closed” to the general public.
Newsletter: You work with such high-priced stars of Russian art as, for instance, Oleg Kulik. XL Gallery supported Kulik’s grandiose project at the 50th Venice Biennale. How important is it for you to invest your time and money in young artists, as opposed to supporting the projects of recognized masters? What young artists are you working with?
Elena Selina: One should not forget that today’s “high priced” stars are our contemporaries and that we have been working with them for the past twelve years. We started by investing in totally unknown Russian artists. I would dare to say that we have played no small role in launching the careers of
Kulik, Dubossarsky, Vinogradov and others. I will never forget how we hauled Kulik’s cow through the customs in order to show it at the
Ghent Museum. We took financial risks and the project paid off. It was an extremely interesting exhibition. The project was purchased by the museum and included in its permanent exhibition. We were the first to show and sell all important works by Dubossarsky and Vinogradov,
playing an important part in helping them to win
Irina Korina. Back to Future (detail of installation), 2004. Сourtesy of XL Gallery
Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov.
Barbie, 2003. Oil on canvas. Collection of Elena Selina
Before they became well-known and popular among curators and
collectors (and for that very reason), we deliberately showed
their large and patently non-commercial projects, such as
Jesus Christ in Moscow and
Total Painting. We immersed
ourselves in artistic projects, both financially and
intellectually. Before each exhibition at our gallery, we become
a team centered round the artist, a solid group working on each
and every element of the project. When faced with a choice
between good sales and an interesting project, we unfailingly
chose the interesting project. If you look at the activities the
gallery has initiated throughout its history, you will see how
often we show installations that can only be sold to museums. A
large-scale project can often have a greater influence on an
artist’s career than a quick sale. If an artist manages to
maintain his/her creative personality, the art market will
notice him/her anyway. To bring a young artist to attention, one
has to organize at least three solo exhibitions, with no
expectation of an immediate payoff. Not to mention that in such
situations, a gallery owner should also be a good tutor. Two of
our young artists, Irina Korina and David Ter-Oganyan,
were chosen to take part in the basic program of the First
Moscow Biennale and have already participated in
international exhibitions. Thanks to our efforts, they and other
young artists supported by the gallery are arousing interest in
the international art community.
What steps should a Russian gallery take to be accepted for participation in major international fairs? Why is the number of Russian galleries represented at such events so limited? XL is the only Russian gallery at the upcoming Art Basel. What do you expect from this fair and whose works are you going to show?
Elena Selina: A gallery should demonstrate professionalism and a desire to enter the international art context. We showed such a desire. Since 1998, we have been regularly participants at international art fairs. First, we went to
Art Forum in Berlin, then to the Armory Show in New York, then to
Frieze in London and now we are going to Art Basel. Whether a Russian gallery takes part in a fair is decided individually by the expert committee of each fair. Whether a gallery is selected for participation depends on the way it presents its application. Collaborations with museums and participation in international projects are also very important. It seems we have reached the level of professionalism and expertise at which they start paying attention to a gallery. To my mind, the process of the integration of Russian galleries into the international art context is developing at a good pace. Lately, my colleagues have been actively attending international art fairs. The
Aidan Gallery took part in the Art Forum in Berlin, the Armory Show and
ARCO (Madrid) and FIAC (Paris). Regina Gallery went to Berlin, Madrid and Cologne. Russian galleries are in no way neglected by the expert committees of international art fairs. As for our participation in Art Basel, we simply happened to be the first one there. At Art Basel, I would like to show the broadest possible spectrum of the gallery’s activities and to present the broadest possible range of artists, from the most renowned to the youngest. I will try to show the works of Oleg Kulik, Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov,
Vladislav Efimov and Aristarkh Chernyshev, Irina Korina,
Tatiana Hangsler, Boris Mikhailov, Boris Orlov, Igor Makarevich,
Igor Mukhin, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe and perhaps some others. Such a long list should not sound frightening, since the works we will show are of various sizes and media (objects, photographs, paintings and video films). The major problem for me is to integrate all these diverse works by very different artists. What I expect from the art fair in general is understanding.
Newsletter: The story about the participation of XL in the Armory Show in 2003 is now a legend. The cover article was illustrated by a work by your artists Vingradov and Dubossarsky – Barbie. What do these “fifteen minutes” of fame mean for a Russian gallery?
Elena Selina: Fifteen minutes of pleasure. I was happy that the editors of
TheNew York Times liked a work that I liked. But I never feed upon reminiscences. Newspapers have a day-long life. You are a triumphant gallery owner for only a day. The next day, you get back to your work. And it is at work that I feel safer.
Newsletter: Another legend related to XL is Elton John’s purchase of Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe’s work at your gallery in Moscow. Could you describe your typical client? Who usually purchases works by Russian artists?
Elena Selina: What lay behind the legend about Elton John was professional work. At the
White Cube Gallery, they recommended that he pay us a visit. And he did. It was pure luck that at that very moment we were holding a show of Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe.
Elton John had fifteen minutes at his disposal and Monroe was the only Russian artist he saw. Of course, Elton John would hardly have bought a work whose message was unclear or alien to him. That is another coincidence. Regarding a description of a typical client, I would describe him/her as a person who has their own successful business and is forty years of age. As a rule, our clients are people of higher than average intelligence who have an eye for art and a good taste in other things. It makes no difference what country a client comes from. All of them have common features. A stupid person will never collect contemporary art.
Newsletter: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we experienced the first wave of interest in Russian contemporary art. Since 2000, we have been expecting a second wave. What distinguishes that historical situation from the present one? Has Russian art become part of the international art market? How great was the influence of the First Moscow Biennale on the state of contemporary Russian art?
Elena Selina: The situation of the 1980s and early 1990s was distinguished by its utter disorder. There were virtually no galleries in the country. The wave of interest in Russian art overwhelmed all artists without exception. Western curators and collectors rushed to Moscow. The end result was several unclear shows and departing airplanes packed with art works of varying quality. We are still visited by the collectors of the early 1990s, who ask us to sell the “masterpieces” of that period. It was a rare occasion when somebody was lucky enough to purchase a re-sellable work. It is distressing to see a collector who has thoughtlessly spent huge sums of money on works by swindlers. When they started to evaluate this inarticulate mass seriously, they felt disappointed and disillusioned. Few Russian artists were able to stand this jaundiced analysis. We should not forget either that no one was ready for “total” interest; they mistook a fashion for an unchanging situation. They saw recognition and thought it was going to last forever. Nobody took this stroke of luck critically. Today’s situation is very personal. Each artist is considered not only within the general context, but also individually. If an artist’s works are sellable, he or she has a good chance of entering the international art context. The role of galleries has never been as important as today. Contemporary artists do not appear from nowhere. The promotion of any artist requires long-term, professional work. A professional should be able to consider any artistic phenomenon, not only from the artist’s point of view, but also
ab extra. As far as the international art market is concerned, for the last seven years, we have taken small steps towards entering it. And as time goes on, we will surely become figurants, though I cannot predict when this will happen. The Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art is another step in this direction. It is very important that the international art community takes this event seriously. During the Biennale, a lot of internationally recognized curators, gallery owners and collectors came to Moscow, including representatives of the world’s most influential art fairs – Sam Keller (Art Basel) Amanda Sharp and Mathieu Slotover (Frieze) and Jennifer Fly (FIAC). Each day of the Biennale was incredibly difficult for me. Never before had such a great number of professional visitors met inside the walls of the gallery. The great interest in the Moscow event and Russian art inspires optimism – both overall and from the point of view of market development.
Newsletter: Together with a number of Moscow galleries, XL sits on the expert committee of Art Moscow. What are you expecting from the upcoming 9th Art Moscow?
Elena Selina: The expert committee of Art Moscow includes
Marat Guelman, Aidan Salakhova, Elena Selina, Volker Diehl,
Hans Knoll and Ekaterina Degot. Before each art fair, we get together to see and evaluate the presented materials. We try to choose galleries focused on topical contemporary art. The number of applicants grows each year. The Moscow fair now appeals to the international art community. As far as my expectations from 9th Art Moscow are concerned, the greatest of them is a high level of professionalism. I do not want to expect anything else. When a fair is well organized, there are always sales, press reports and “everything you always dreamt of, but were afraid of asking.”
16 September 2005 to 12 January 2006. RUSSIA! exhibition organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in cooperation with the Federation of Russian Museums at the Guggenheim Museum, New York City
The Man Who Flew into Space from his Apartment, 1984. Courtesy of the artist
RUSSIA! will present the greatest masterpieces of Russian art from the twelfth century to today, as well as works from the world-class collections amassed by the Russian tsars, aristocrats and middle classes.. The exhibition explores six major aspects of Russian art history – medieval Russian icons from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries; the eighteenth century or the epoch of Peter and Catherine the Great; the golden age of Realism in the nineteenth century; the avant-garde of the early twentieth century; Socialist Realism from the late 1920s to the 1960s; modern art from the 1970s to the present. Brought together, these key periods paint a remarkable and interconnected picture of seven centuries of Russian art and Russian art collections. The exhibits demonstrate the major contribution of Russian art to the history of world art, extending far beyond the bounds of such well-known achievements as Russian icons and the avant-garde.
Komar and Melamid. Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin Will Live (from the Nostalgic Socialist Realism series), 1981--
82. Oil on canvas. Jörn Donner collection
Die Geschichte der russischen Kunst -- Von der russischen Avantgarde bis zur Moskauer Schule der Konzaptualisten, 2003 Courtesy of the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt
This exhibition is curated by a team of Russian and American art historians, including Thomas Krens, Robert Rosenblum, Yevgenia Petrova, Lydia Iovleva, Pavel Khoroshilov, Anna Kolupaeva, Zelfira Tregulova, Georgy Vilinbakhov and Valerie Hillings. The ambitious scope and quality of the works will make
RUSSIA! one of the most representative shows in the entire history of foreign exhibitions of Russian art.
RUSSIA! will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by leading Russian and American scholars. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress and a celebrated scholar of Russian history, will author the introductory essay. The other contributors include Robert Rosenblum, Yevgenia Petrova, Lydia Iovleva, Albert Kostenevich, Valerie Hillings and Alexander Borovsky, who will pen the essay on contemporary art. This publication will paint a vivid picture of the exhibits, making it one of the most comprehensive and consulted sources on the history of Russian art and history ever published in English..
The exhibition is supported by the Vladimir Potanin Charitable Fund. Further support is provided by the Russian Federal agency for Culture & Cinematography.
February 2006. The State Russian Museum opens a new exhibition
Adventures of the Black Square (curated by Irina Karasik, a senior research fellow at the Contemporary Art Department).The exhibition will trace the history of the seminal work of
Kazimir Malevich, taken as an idea, form, sign, motif and symbolic subject in twentieth-century art. Apart from paintings by Malevich and his followers, the exhibition will also show works by Russian and other artists whose oeuvres reveal the influence of Malevich’s
First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art 2005.
"Dialectics of Hope".
Moscow. Artchronika. 2005
Catalogue and official program of the First Moscow Biennale. The red cover (red is the official color of the Biennale) emphasizes the event’s revolutionary pathos. The aims of the Biennale are formulated in the cover article, co-signed by curators Rosa Martinez, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Daniel Birnbaum, Nicolas Bourriaud, Iara Boubnova and Joseph Backstein.
First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art 2005. Special Projects.
Moscow. Artchronika. 2005
Catalogue of projects included in the special program of the First Moscow Biennale. This publication presents major trends in Russian contemporary art.
StarZ. Exhibition project.
AraArAt 1887. Foundation Contemporary City. January 27 to February 28, 2005.
An occasional newspaper published for the opening of StarZ, a special project of the First Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. Presenting an increasingly popular genre on the national art scene, the newspaper includes interviews with such influential Russian artists as Oleg Kulik, Alexander Vinogradov, Vladimir Dubossarsky, AES Group and Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe.
Accomplices: Сollective and Interactive Works in Russian Art. Exhibition catalogue. State Tretyakov Gallery. Krimsky val. January 28 – March 6, 2005
Catalogue of a concurrent project held at the State Tretyakov Gallery as part of the First Moscow Biennale (curated by Andrei Yerofeyev).
An important guide to Russian art groups and movements over the last forty
Khudozhestvenny Zhurnal. Moscow Art Magazine. Digest.
The first English-language digest of Russia’s most influential intellectual magazine on contemporary art.
Khudozhestvenny Zhurnal (Moscow Art Magazine) appeared in 1993 and was edited by Victor Misiano, who is still editor-in-chief. This digest is designed to introduce the Western public and art professionals to the best articles on Russian contemporary art written by leading Russian art critics.
Rebus. St. Petersburg. Scythia. 2005.
The new issue of the Kabinet magazine contains articles by Austrian and Russian art critics and psychoanalysts, focused on conceptual art and the relationship between words and images. Articles by August Ruhs, Pavel Pepperstein, Brigitte Holzinger, Nina Savchenkova, Viktor Mazin, Inge Scholz-Strasser and Olesya Turkina are illustrated by Michaela Spiegel, a conceptualist artist from Vienna. This issue was the result of a collaboration between the Freud Dreams Museum and the Austrian Embassy. Published in Russian and German. Edited by Victor Mazin.
DAR. Russian Art from Avangarde up to Nowdays. The catalogue of Prices. 2005.
The first data-book of prices of Russian art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries ever published in Russia. Along with prices for the classical works of Russian avant-garde art of Malevich, Kandinsky and Chagall, taken from the top-sales lists of major auctions, the book also gives the prices of works by contemporary Russian artists. Compiled by Sergey Popov, the book is published in Russian and English with illustrations and an introductory article written by Alexandr Borovsky.
WAM “Moscow Conceptualism”. Moscow. 2005.
This issue of World Art Museum magazine presents the main body of works of Moscow conceptualist art. Compiled by Ekaterina Dyogot and Vadim Zakharov, the book contains over 150 works by twenty Moscow artists and groups, including Ilya Kabakov, Andrei Monastyrsky, Komar and Melamid,
Inspection of the Medical Hermeneutics and others. Most works are published for the first time.
State of Emergency. 8th issue January 2005. Newspaper of the engaged creative platform
Chto delat? / What Is To Be Done?
Founded in early 2003, Chto delat? / What Is To Be Done? () brings together artists, philosophers, social scientists and writers from Moscow and St Petersburg. This work-group publishes an English-Russian newspaper on issues central to modern poetics and politics, with a special focus on the Russian artistic-intellectual situation. The publication usually appears in connection with specific. Events and is distributed free of charge at congresses and exhibitions, where it reaches a broad cultural public. (David Riff
and Dmitry Vilensky, editors of the newspaper)
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Editor: Dr. Olesya Turkina Art critic, curator (international projects include Russian pavilion at the 48th Venice Biennale), correspondent for Flash Art International; n.paradoxa (London); Kabinet (St. Petersburg); Moscow Art Magazine (Moscow) E-mail:email@example.com Translation by Olga Serebryanaya