3rd Art Biennale Imports Unknown World

For MTArtist Oleg Kulik and one of his shadow creations. Kulik will take up two floors in the TsUM department store.
The Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art promises to introduce Moscow to a wider world of art as curator Jean-Hubert Martin, the former director of the Pompidou Center, pushes African, Indian, Australian and Chinese modern art into the spotlight.

There are great expectations for the Biennale, which starts Friday and runs for a month. The Garage Center of Contemporary Culture is the main festival venue, although dozens of the city’s galleries will also host events.

Martin, a respected curator who also headed the Kunsthalle Bern and the Paris Musee National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie, has dubbed the event, “Against Exclusion.”

“For decades, when we thought about art, we defined art by excluding the rest. To define itself, art had to exclude other art,” Martin said. “We are now part of the famous globalization movement and we have a long history of relations with other cultures ... This idea of supporting universal art is something that hasn’t seen much development in Moscow.

“Since perestroika, you’ve seen many very good exhibits from Europe and North America, but much less from Australia, Africa, Papua New Guinea. And I thought that it was time to show this art to the Russians.”

Iosif Bakshtein, the Biennale’s commissar, said making the former director of the Pompidou Center the Biennale’s curator was a great move and he expected him to revolutionize the project.

“Martin is well-known for his active use of authentic African and Asian artists in his shows, and this year’s Biennale won’t be an exception,” Bakshtein said. “He redefines the traditional approach to modern art.”

Among the shows he has brought in are Cyprien Tokoudagba’s drawings from the walls of African huts, Afghan rugs from the 1980s with tanks and weapons replacing traditional themes and artists Nawurapu Wunungmurra, Mike Parr and Doreen Reid from Australia.

“Very often I’m criticized for showing works that are not contemporary art, they say this is not art, they belong to anthropology or ethnology,” Martine said. “But I don’t care. It’s just visual expression, if we call it art, it’s the way one human being communicates with other human beings. My understanding of art is much broader, much wider than the usual definition of the Western contemporary art.”

When asked to pick what the other highlights would be, Martin pointed to Conrad Shawcross, a British artist whose elaborate machine will be put in place outside Garage.

“There are two little lights that constantly turn, they cross, you get the feeling that they’ll hit each other but they suddenly kiss and stop for a split second. A very beautiful piece,” he said. Martin also invited a bizarre Gothic cathedral-like caterpillar by Wim Delvoye, a giant red sculpture by Anish Kapoor and fighting lizards and scorpions by Huang Yong. There is also a work by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, which Martin describes as, “wax figures of old disabled men of different nationalities ... we have a man in a military outfit, a Russian priest, a Saudi Arabian-looking white gown-clad man … in wheelchairs. The idea is that we are probably ruled too much by old people.”

Outside Garage, one of the high-profile exhibits, is Oleg Kulik’s performance project, “Spatial Liturgy.” It features a mirror-clad labyrinth with shadows and voices imitating famous 20th-century Russian theatrical performances, and it will take up two floors of the TsUM department store.

“At the moment the national idea in Russia is to steal as much as possible and flee to the West, and only there to put on a tie and start going to church,” Kulik said. “Our project is meant to get people to think about their national identity, to reconsider their value system. With our performance we wanted to turn contemporary Russian art into something worth seeing and to make the life in Russia worth staying for.”

Unfortunately Anthony Gormley’s show “Event Horizon” will not be on show as the city government did not give permission to install sculptures on central Moscow roofs and streets.

The 3rd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Arts will run Sept. 25 to Oct. 25. CCC Garage, 19A Ulitsa Obravtszova. Metro Savyolovskaya. Tel. 645-0520. For a complete list of participants and other sites, see 3rd.moscowbienale.ru.