Curators Speak Out
- Sep. 08 2014 18:18
Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt is the art director of VIENNAFAIR
1. Is Russian contemporary art represented enough internationally, considering its significance? If not, how can that be changed?
Very few Russian contemporary artists are represented by international galleries or have had a museum show at an international museum. This is very unfortunate for the artists because their art is internationally competitive.
To change this it requires international residence programs for artists so that artists develop their own networks, curators and museum groups, that they go frequently to Russia and that passionate Russian collectors and museums appear supporting their artists.
2. Which role does Russian art play for Western artistic work, and can Russia inspire contemporary artists?
Russia has a strong place in the history of art and has shaped artists today. This history keeps being highlighted internationally, but the link to today is missing.
Potentially everything is in place to inspire artists and curators in the cities and in the regions. All it requires is a curious eye and an infrastructure. There is a lack of money from private and institutional bodies so that projects can be realized.
Christine Koenig is the founder and owner of the Christine Koenig Gallery in Vienna.
To claim that "we" here in the West are knowledgeable about contemporary Russian art would be a euphemism. Of course we're familiar with the work of world-famous stars such as Ilya Kabakov, and everyone saw Pussy Riot's bold performance, if for political reasons rather than creative ones. We might also know the Blue Noses, Olga Chernysheva, whose works I exhibited before she became famous, Leonid Tishkov, and perhaps five more artists.
This is unfortunate, but in light of Europe's shared history with its colossal neighbor, unsurprising. Russia has always been so close, but at the same time, so far. The image of the close stranger, in contrast to that of the spellbinding distant stranger, unsettles us, as political scientist Katrin Seifert has observed in her study "The Construction of Russia in German Mass Media Coverage of Foreign Affairs." From Catherine the Great, to the Volga Germans, to the post-World War II occupation, to the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the allure of the unknown has become ever stronger. Russia is a direct neighbor that doesn't embody the other, but instead reveals our own other, and in doing so, ourselves.
In the midst of this murky psychosocial confusion, as seen in the "Russian mirage" ("le mirage russe") of Albert Lortholary and others, art becomes part of a broader social and political context and is stripped of its subjective stamp. As in the case of Pussy Riot, art becomes an example of something and is no longer a medium that allows us to grasp the truth by expressing existential dilemmas through aesthetics.
What can we do to change this? Nothing, I'm afraid, until the "Western" critics, gallery owners, museum establishment and public tastemakers finally part with the false picture that they have invented about the East and view Russian contemporary art as the subjective expression of idiosyncratic individuals, just like in the West. At present, however, it doesn't seem as though anything will change, and current political events are unlikely to help eliminate stereotypes about the eternal desperation of Eastern Europe.
David Elliott is an Art Gallery and Museum curator
This year as artistic director of "A Time for Dreams," the Fourth International Moscow Biennale for Young Art, I was asked by its organizers — the National Center for Contemporary Art and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art — to take the temperature of what comprises "young art" in Russia today. This meant traveling widely, visiting galleries, artists' studios and alternative spaces. Other than obligatory trips to Moscow and St. Petersburg, I went to Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara as part of my research. But in such a vast country this was obviously only scratching the surface. Even so, I found there a number of as yet unformed but dynamic, reflective and critical young artists who completely upturn cliched, hidebound stereotypes of what it is to be Russian.
At the end of the 1990s I was working in Russia, as well as elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, on an intensive survey of young artists for the large traveling exhibition "After the Wall: Art and Culture in Post-Communist Europe." It was shown first in Stockholm, where I was director of Moderna Museet, and then in Budapest and Berlin. The idea was to take a snapshot of what had happened in art over the decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall so that we could begin to see how a new generation had reacted to, and perhaps even led, the change. During this time when the enormities, rather than the banalities, of a totalitarian past could only start to be digested, a new, cynical and sometimes violent edge had appeared in art. But in Russia, the head of the former Soviet empire, the new art was still heavy and the slowest to move.
The most significant and welcome change for me, working on this biennale 15 years later, was the repudiation of the seemingly interminable state of being "post-Soviet." The anodyne ironies of socialist realism and the terminal paradoxes of conceptualism have been replaced by a more open sense of enquiry that, avoiding style for its own sake, relates to a contemplation and critique of the state of things as they are — good or bad — and that can therefore be appreciated within a much broader context.
In addition, a vast number of new art schools, studios and collectives have started to supplement and, in some cases, revolutionize the work of the established academies. These were particularly evident in Moscow and St. Petersburg. A similar openness can also be seen in the range of work being made. Painting is still strong, but so is photography, installation art and performance. Video is finding its own way and, making no reference to the grand narrative of Soviet cinema, moves between parody of reality TV — as in Anastasia Vepreva's nightmare show "She Owes" (2013), in which elderly women "instruct" their youngers in how to please and keep their worthless, boorish men — and a more intimate, subjective handmade approach as in Yevgeny Granilshchikov's 11-minute video "Courbet's Funeral" (2014), filmed on a mobile phone and somehow poetically reminiscent of classic French cinema. Samara-based artist Vladimir Logutov adopts a more laconic approach in his video "The End of the Industrial Era" (2012). This is a view of a view in which a young woman standing on a large classical balcony surveys a glowering, toxic industrial landscape flared by explosions as, after its period of production, it begins to destroy and consume itself.
"In The Triumph of Fun" (2013), an unruly fountain constructed out of oil barrels, St. Petersburg artist Ivan Plusch makes an ironical reference to the Russian taste for grandiosity (as expressed in such Soviet monuments as the Friendship of Nations Fountain in Moscow's VDNKh Park) as well as to the wealth of New Russia and the importance of energy in the economy. This ludic sense of carnival is continued in the collective work "Agricultural Studies" (2013), which was made by four graduates of Moscow's Rodchenko School and in which they use their bodies to re-enact in photographs the forms of obsolete agricultural equipment, their absurdity transforming them into a dance or a sculpture.
In her extended photo study "True Self" (2013), Natalie Maximova, a graduate of the same school, traveled throughout Russia interviewing men and women who felt that their gender and biological sex were not the same and as a result had decided to embark on the difficult and painful procedure of changing sex. These moving portraits, showing their sitters as they wish to be seen, are accompanied by descriptions of who they are and their condition. In his installation "Administration" (2013), Oleg Ustinov also refers to thorny political issues of sexual orientation and how society regards this, by documenting a particular action and its consequences. As a starting point, he posted a seemingly official notice in a number of housing blocks asking residents to report on any abnormal sexual habits or practices they had noticed among their neighbors. It was signed simply "The Administration," with a Town Hall number given as a contact. Some people took this at face value and called either to complain about this infringement of civil liberties or to report someone whom they suspected. Others ignored it entirely. Soon it became the talk of the town, and the press and TV news reported this inexplicable phenomenon, interviewing people for their views on what had happened and on whether such an action, if it had taken place, was acceptable. Ustinov's work, a Gogolian fiction of social dismay and outrage, reveals the complexity and range of people's reactions with the comforting conclusion that, although media might be superficial, not all people think the same.
The four artists of the Krasnodar-based collective Zip Group also touch on the question of authority and social control in their installation "District of Civil Resistance" (2013) while also referring back to revolutionary Soviet architecture by artists such as El Lissitzky and Gustav Klutsis. Some of their structures — such as BOPs (Booths of Individual Picketing), which protect demonstrators from attack and carry banners and slogans — have been used in actual demonstrations, while a model shows how the whole system of command, demonstration and escape operates.
The specter of revolution in another form appears in the nearly seven-meter-wide painting "Bandits to the Trash" (2014) by Dmitry Okruzhnov and Maria Sharova, who both studied at the Surikov Academy in Moscow. Here, at the center, a Femen demonstrator (a member of the activist feminist artists' group founded in Kiev but now based in Paris) holds up a banner with the work's title — a denunciation of this violent, restrictive element of Russian life — against a background of flaming trash, barricades and violent right-wing thugs.
Moscow-based artist, Oleg Matrokhin's installation "Phlogiston: Epitaph" (2014) engenders a new order while referring to a time and way of thought that has long become extinct. Baroque swags of old Soviet textiles are refashioned into gateways, arches and columns that celebrate a bittersweet and nearly lost ideal of beauty. The Recycle Group from Krasnodar invokes a similar elegy in "The Keys of Paradise" (2014) but also considers the conditions of the present. Shadowy figures loom out of a background of white plastic netting and, as if in a classical frieze, become enmeshed in a strange Bacchanalian conflict. This setting, however, is not rooted in some ancient myth but in the grim quotidian reality of a supermarket's checkout line, the participants of which are the high priests and handmaidens of excessive consumption.
These are just a few of the many young artists I visited and whose work I showed in the biennale. I admire their energy and commitment to art. Innocent of the past, they do not feel bound by it. Intelligent and critical, they view their world as it is, without prescribing how anyone else should see it. Strong, independent, courageous vision provides a sound basis for any idea of quality in art. This and these artists' commitment to a truthful and humane search for beauty — however disturbing it may be — showed me that, in art at least, Russia again deserves our serious consideration.
Eva Fisher is the founder and curator of sound:frame festival, Vienna
The broadening of contacts and international exchange!
In times when people stop appreciating the fact that wonderful things are going on in their country, it is more important to express and inform them about diverse thoughts. I am so glad that again and again I hear from artist colleagues and friends of mine in Russia and their understanding of the current development of artistic processes in their country. I trust the picture of Russia that the accounts of these people create. These artists and creative people have modern and open mentalities akin to my own, mainly due to their international contacts. And the negative portrayal of Russia that one is exposed to in the West is tempered by what I hear from them. Such opinions should be heard on an international level! If not art, then what else will help?
Russian artists provide a significant contribution to art internationally, especially if one is to take the example of the latest trend of performance art. Pussy Riot created an incredibly powerful stimulus and has influenced artistic and theatrical viewpoints and concepts in not only Austria, but also on an international level. Similarly, many observers have commented on the exciting Russian way of thinking. It is an important point to make that not everyone is unaware of the harsh realities of Russian society such as that which is going on with the elite in their country and in others. Russia's creative circles must remain strong! They reveal to the international community Russia's diversity, and it is of the upmost importance. Powerful statements help us realize that freedom of creativity and of opinions (basic concepts!) should be highly valued in not only Russia, but everywhere.
Georg Schöllhammer is the founder and editor of the contemporary art publication "Springerin — Hefte für Gegenwartskunst," independent author and curator.
To me, everything now happening with Moscow and Russia seems to be in the spirit of the great German-Jewish historian, philosopher and idler Walter Benjamin, who in the mid-1920s described his impressions of the city and the shift in post-revolutionary Russia in his "Moscow Diary."
Amidst descriptions of the enormous city through which Benjamin strolls, observing with surprise its changing tempo, commodities appear to him over and over as an ideal and the embodiment of Muscovites' material reality. The commodity, which in modern terms indicates status, reflects the city's lifestyle and economic makeup. I've been traveling to Moscow for more than 20 years, and have watched as the art world and the artists of this city have transformed, grown, found new spaces and kept their eyes open in order to understand the frank, alienating "glamour" of the changing city and its society during perestroika and the subsequent wild and hopeful years of rupture and transformation. Its art scene is one of the most alien, native and intellectual that I know. It has maintained its critical eye and fresh viewpoint. It has always strived to distance itself from the prevailing order and the new temptations that have arisen within it.
Criticism and pragmatism. By looking at the things upon which, for which and against which it acts, and what it takes into its Western-oriented subconscious, we can learn a great deal, especially today, in a time of geopolitical fault lines and the converging of Europe's tectonic plates. Or as Walter Benjamin wrote in the winter of 1926: "Concerning my impression of the city and its people, everything is the same as with my spiritual impressions: the new ideas one can gain here are the main experience of being in Russia." In my diary there are many such impressions.
Hans Ulrich Obrist is an art curator, critic and art historian. He is co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery, London
Edouard Glissant is the most urgent writer of the 21st century. Glissant, who was born on Martinique in 1928 and died in Paris on February 3 of this year, was one of the most important writers and philosophers of our time. He called attention to means of global exchange that do not homogenize culture but produce a difference from which new things can emerge. He bears the intellectual significance for our time that Foucault and Deleuze bore for theirs.
His poems, novels, plays and theoretical essays are a "toolbox" that I use every day in my praxis as an exhibition curator. The globalization we find ourselves in is certainly not the first historical phase of cultural interaction and transactions in the world, but the third or fourth. Presumably, however, it is one of globalization's most extreme and violent phases. The homogenization of cultural differences represents a serious threat. The relevance of Glissant's writings lies in the ways they show us of escaping this threat but through dialogue and not through refusal of dialogue. Glissant says the counter reaction to globalization can be a refusal of global dialogue or also a growing lack of tolerance. Glissant proposes his idea of mondialite, a generous way of engaging with the global dialogue while avoiding the homogenization, he calls it a difference-producing global dialogue.
Besides his visionary thoughts on Creolization we can learn from Glissant's "Archipelic Thought." The Antillean archipelagoe's geography is important for Glissantian thought because it is an island group that has no center but consists of a string of different islands and cultures. The exchange that takes place between the islands allows each to preserve its own identity: The American archipelagoes are extremely important because it was in these islands that the idea of Creolization — that is, the blend of cultures — was most brilliantly fulfilled. Continents reject mixings … [whereas] archipelic thought makes it possible to say that neither each person's identity nor the collective identity is fixed and established once and for all. I can change through exchange with the other, without losing or diluting my sense of self. And it is archipelic thought that teaches us this.
"Archipelic Thought," which endeavors to do justice to the world's diversity, forms an antithesis to continental thought, which makes a claim to absoluteness and tries to force its worldview on other countries. To counter the homogenizing force of "globalization" (mondialisation), Glissant coined the term "globality" (mondialité) for a form of worldwide exchange that recognizes and preserves diversity and Creolization. Glissant's texts are mostly available in French only, and it's urgent to have translations of Glissant for the 21st century into many languages and also into Russian.
Hans Knoll is the founder and owner of Knoll Gallery in Vienna and Budapest
"Russia is Europe. Its fascinating art is important to understanding one another and ourselves."
Hans Knoll is a gallery owner who has been working in Russia since the mid-1990s, organizing art tours to Russia for European collectors and curators and regularly displaying Russian contemporary art in his galleries in Vienna and Budapest.
Kate Fowle is the chief curator at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
It is difficult for me to put into concise words how the current situation in Russia is impacting cultural life here, let alone its reception abroad. Since I started working as chief curator at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in early 2013, no month has been the same, but in general the faith in an open, stable future for art and ideas, especially in terms of building any relations internationally, is fluctuating.
That's not to say there haven't recently been productive moments — exhibitions, events, conversations, conferences — that have brought together practitioners from around the world and across generations to create opportunities for trying to make sense of the political mayhem. There is no shortage of talk about the urgencies of a culture that seven or so years ago saw itself on the brink of having a chance for growth on a world stage. I'm talking about the time around the late 2000s and early 2010s when new institutions were being created, international collaborations were proliferating, and a new generation of artists, writers and curators was gaining prominence for their ideas rather than their nationality. Now the question is how many steps back we are taking before there is a chance to move forward again. The answer, it seems, becomes increasingly negative according to the years you have already been struggling to build community and infrastructure.
I am optimistic, perhaps because I am new to the landscape. The artists, writers and curators I am getting to know around me repeatedly inspire and challenge my understanding of what art can be and do. The potential to engage broad publics in contemporary art is immense, and the energy for making this possible is as big. There is a number of experimental initiatives developing from the newest generation of practitioners, while independent-minded institutions like Garage, the Ekaterina Foundation, the Stella Foundation, the Victoria Art Foundation, NCCA, Winzavod, the Multimedia Art Museum and the Jewish Museum have diversified enough in recent years to enable an art scene to survive for now.
The major problem is the incredible speed that we, internationally, have begun to echo Cold War geopolitics, not least in the media. The impact is an increasing inability to parse people, communities, politics and propaganda. Just 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and only two decades since the end of the Soviet Union, it is hard to believe that we are back to a scenario where Russia and the United States are implementing a seismic East/Soviet/West divide, regardless of the wide-ranging consequences this will have (and is having) on people physically and psychologically.
Among the actions we have taken at Garage is to build international collaborations and talk to people, not communicate via statements. Perhaps most importantly, through producing exhibitions, books and research from our archive collection, we are looking back at the 1990s in Russia and exploring parallel developments in the rest of the world to understand the impact of the decade now. More than ever, it is evident that the seeds were sown then for what we are currently experiencing, culturally and politically. There is much to learn and much to be done, but one thing is certain: There is both desire and determination for (re)building a meaningful international art world within and from Russia.
Martin Böhm is CEO of Dorotheum Auction House Vienna
In recent years modern art has gained increasing significance, and not only on the auction market. Founded over 300 years ago, Vienna's Dorotheum auction house is one of the largest and oldest auction houses in the world specializing in art. As such, it devotes the bulk of its attention to paintings by the Old Masters.
Over the past decade, we've successfully expanded our focus to the sphere of modern art, which is ever gaining in importance. Dorotheum has achieved particularly impressive results with Italian, Austrian and German modern art, thanks in part to our many representatives on the ground who provide excellent service to our clients. The auction house, which has more than 100 experts on staff, is active around the world and represents 45 artistic genres. Our goal is the continued expansion of our activities, of which contemporary Russian art is undoubtedly a part.
In addition, I'd like to draw attention to the auction house's special project. Dorotheum's Vienna Art Week, which this fall will take place for the 10th time, highlights Vienna as a vibrant center of modern art. Thanks to exhibitions, showroom visits, special displays and discussion groups in all of Vienna's exhibition centers and galleries, Art Week offers the fascinating possibility of contemporary art presented outside historical margins.
Massimiliano Gioni is curator and associate director of New Museum, New York
I have been going regularly to Russia, in particular Moscow, since 2002 after my very first trip in the 1990s.
Seeing how the city and the various artistic communities have changed, expanded and transformed has been an exciting experience. At times, witnessing the sudden acceleration of change, I even felt it was necessary to slow down and try to analyze what was being lost in the process. The exhibition "Ostalgia," which I curated at the New Museum, was very much suggested by seeing the city of Moscow — along with other capitals in the so-called former East — become more and more similar to any contemporary metropolis in the world.
Obviously one should never fall prey to nostalgia, but many artists whom I have encountered in Moscow — artists as different as Victor Alimpiev, Evgeny Antufiev, Nikolay Bakharev, Sergey Bratkov, Olga Chernysheva, Chto Delat?, Evgenij Kozlov, Boris Mikhailov, Andrei Monastyrski, David Ter-Oganian, Anatoly Osmolovsky, just to really name a few randomly — have looked at the world around them capturing the sense of a profound cultural transformation. In the work of these artists, I have often admired the simplicity and directness of their language, which refuses high production standards and aims instead straight to the heart, straight to reality. One should never generalize, of course, and we cannot reduce all those artists' works to some fictional common denominator. But at the cost of over-simplifying, I have learned a lot from these and other Russian artists — one should also remember other artists from older generations such as Eric Bulatov, Pavel Pepperstein, Viktor Pivovarov, Dmitri Prigov and, of course, the great Ilya Kabakov — and particularly I have admired their belief in the transformative power of art and the link that still ties art to personal freedoms.
I also love to return to Moscow because I think there is a fervent change happening among institutions, with the development of private museums and foundations. In particular, I always love to go to Moscow and discover the old forgotten museums and unusual spaces that the "Victoria — The Art of Being Contemporary Foundation" scouts and makes available to artists. I am partial to the Victoria Foundation because we have often worked together but, more importantly, because they are cultivating a model in which art is not just glamour: It is instead a tool to engage with the present, the future and the past, constructing dialogues between art and history to imagine new models of change.
Margo Ovcharenko (born 1989, Krasnodar, Russia) is a Moscow-based photographer.
"Furious Like a Child" is a very personal journey to the childhood with its fears, pains and affects. Margo uses her childhood memories and feelings to study the position of a woman in a contemporary society.
Peter Noever is designer and Art Curator, Vienna
Art can shake confidence!
Twenty-five years ago, when I had the good fortune to display Malevich's modern icon "Red Square" at an exhibition in Vienna, I was filled with indescribable joy, happiness and pride. The fact that these artworks from the revolutionary avant-garde were in the museum that I had only been directing for a couple of years became a major event for me and my calling for further work in museums. Today I see this particularly clearly. The exhibition took place in 1988 (incidentally, soon afterwards Katalin Nerai was shown at the Mucsarnok in Budapest), several years before the exhibition "The Great Utopia. The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde" at New York's Guggenheim in 1992.
We called the Vienna exhibition "Art and Revolution: Russian and Soviet Art 1910-1932." We displayed major works by all the most important artists: Tatlin, Popovaya, Lebedev, Rodchenko/Stepanovaya, as well as Chernyshev, Golosov, Leonidov and Melnikov.
As a kind of "wall" for Malevich's "Red Square" (1915, oil on canvas, 53cm x 53cm) we placed a separate block (3.5m x 0.40m x 4.20m) and an immovable piece of concrete that weighed over three tons in the middle of the empty central exhibition hall of the Museum of Applied Arts, a space of more than 500 square meters, as a sign of admiration and commemoration of this period of intense, penetrating, backbreaking, liberating art.
While writing these lines, I received an invitation from the Siberian Center for Contemporary Art and the Siberian Center for the Promotion of Architecture to serve on the jury of the international competition "Avant-Garde Worlds of El Lissitzky." Studying the Russian avant-garde 100 years after the fact is a worthy undertaking, of course, but it raises the question: where is the avant-garde today?
Today, it seems to me that the relationship between art and technology, between art and science, i.e. between analysis and the act of creation, has changed significantly.
Art is the only source of continuity. The artist captures the highs and lows of our condition and our society and is able to reveal them and respond to them. This is especially important in a time of methodically distorted phenomena such as globalization, modernization and hybridization. This is why we can't allow art, in its efforts to capture the spirit of the time, to devolve into a carnival.
Yes, we must fight against omnivorous tendencies in the name of fashion.
Art should shake our confidence!
Perhaps this is why politicians fear artists. This is true of a variety of politicians, both here and there.
We need to do everything in our power to stop attempts to bring ourselves in lines with their desires, i.e. to make art understandable, compliant and domesticated.
What is happening now, both here and there?
Good versus evil?
America and its ally Europe against the post-Soviet countries and the Russian Federation?
Presidents as the incarnation of good and evil?
Is it possible that public opinion both here and there is more diverse than the so-called public opinion that is published?
The impression arises that an increasing number of journalists are forgetting the meaning of their profession and professional ethics. Perhaps this conflict drives us to mechanically choose sides?
Where are the writers who are interested in the true nature of events? Please step forward!
Our culture is at stake, and if I may say so, it's not worth leaving it to journalism or political parasites!
I have always been certain that for museums in Europe to overlook the two poles—New York and Moscow—is a major omission.
Now more than ever I have great respect for artists in Russia.
Peter Weibel is an artist, curator, theoretician and director of ZKM / Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe
Is Russian contemporary art represented enough internationally, considering its significance? If not, how can that be changed?
Contemporary Russian art has responded to decades of repression with two strategies: compression and decompression. This means tension and relaxation, tightening and loosening, in a process that amounts to stress therapy. Painting and sculpture are either released or confined to the point of condensation or evaporation, or they're so compressed that they become boulders in possession of magnetic force. This potential is far from fulfilled. On the international stage it hasn't been shown sufficiently. The West should build its relations with Russia not through the usual problematic economic sanctions, but with courage, humanity and innovation by staging Russian art exhibitions.
Which role does Russian art play for Western artistic work, and can Russia inspire contemporary artists?
In reality, Russian art displays not only a degree of radicalism in developing modern conceptions of art that is unknown in the West, but also new responses to the problems of modernity. By studying the ruined utopias of the Russian avant-garde, with all its life-affirming ideology that lost out to the life-despising ideology of the real conditions of Soviet communism, Russian art has developed a pluralism of hope.
"without title" 2013 by Alexander Vilkin. Alexander Vilkin was born in 1982 in Snezhinsk (Chelyabinsky Region), lives and works in St.Petersburg.
RoseLee Goldberg is the founder and director of Performa, New York
Contemporary art in Russia is like a sleeping giant who has only recently woken up. Everyone is now realizing that the extraordinarily rich life of Russian art in all media at the beginning of the 20th century is a remarkable launchpad for new work in the 21st. When I wrote my book on the history of performance art (first published in 1979, and in Russian translation in 2013), the chapter on Russian art of the 1920s was absolutely pivotal. It was a period like no other anywhere in the world, when Russian artists were encouraged to think of the avant-garde as an effective and inspiring instrument of the new utopian society; they were encouraged to make work that was as radical as the new economic policies that were being implemented. Artists invented entirely new ways to reach a large public, mixing astonishingly beautiful graphic design with "living newspapers"; actors performing the daily news; constructivists staging devices with "biomechanical" body exercises for traveling "pop-up" theaters; futurist poetry that was as stunning to look at on the page as it was to listen to, and bold new cinema.
Then it all went quiet for 60 years. In the 1970s and '80s, word of "apartment art" and "sots art" and other small collectives seeped out of the Soviet Union. But in the last decade we're beginning to see an emerging generation that is both looking back at this incredible history as a foundation on which to build, looking forward trying to understand how to respond to the present and picking up where the much earlier generation of artists left off. That early work can only be the most stunning inspiration.
I've had the chance now to visit Moscow twice, and it's been thrilling to see the interest in artists' performance. The fact that two of my exhibitions — "100 Years of Performance Art" at Garage, about performances by artists from 1909 to 2009, and "Performance Now" at the Jewish Museum for Tolerance, about performances from 2000 to the present — have been presented in Moscow within just a few years and that my book was recently made available in Russia speaks of a broad interest in the avant-garde and in artists finding new ways to make their shifting cultural history known. We also brought an exhibition on performance from Russia to New York, "33 Fragments" for Performa 11 through Garage, so it's been a two-way process. Through these exhibitions I have met a very strong group of art historians, critics and artists. The two-way conversation is intense and fascinating. It's a powerful engine for generating new ideas — an exciting time.
Stella Rolling is artistic director of LENTOS art museum Linz
The fact that today contemporary Russian art only attracts attention outside of Russia in the wake of a scandal is problematic and highly unfortunate. In these cases one always wants to express outrage at power, violence, repression and the censorship of creative freedom — at a safe distance and without excessive reflection on what reaction these works would provoke in Austria or other European Union countries. In a majority of instances, these "provocative works" are truly radical works of art that distract attention from more subtle forms of expression.
In the 1990s, Russian artists primarily devoted their work to the former government and perestroika, which won them a considerable amount of international recognition. Over the past 20 years, their presence at international exhibitions has fallen significantly. Thus, in the midst of endless pseudo-contemplation, an inaccurate perception has arisen that contemporary Russian art is a direct reflection of the Soviet era or is guided by a primitive desire to shock. Meanwhile, countless artists with diverse modes of expression and subject matter go overlooked.
My work has brought me to Moscow many times, and I've had the good fortune to meet some excellent artists. For the "Lenin Icebreaker" exhibition we invited six Russian artists to Linz, and one of them, Anya Titovaya, will have a solo exhibition in the gallery in 2016. Such a cultural exchange first of all requires people who support it, and second, unimpeded trips abroad. Bureaucratic obstacles hurt cultural exchange. It sounds like a
cliché, but artistic successes, so-called "careers," are rooted in personal meetings and networks that foster recognition and friendship.
Let's dream of spontaneous flights to Moscow, of my Russian friends' unimpeded trips to Linz, of a welcoming and generous Russia!
"Koshka Sashka" 2014 by Alexandra Galkina. Alexandra Galkina was born in 1982 in Moscow where she lives and works.
Volker Diehl is founder and owner of Volker Diehl Gallery in Berlin
In these unexpectedly fraught times, you have asked me to write something about art and politics.
Justifiably so, you are concerned there is the possibility that art and culture will fall by the wayside.
Inevitably, I have no definite answer to this. I can simply tell you a few things about my life, and about my experiences with art and politics.
From time to time, art has been abused, sometimes with the knowledge of the artist, sometimes without.
The CIA used to support abstract expressionism with large sums of money, about which artists like Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline etc had no idea.
In the Soviet Union, Socialist Realism was used as a propa-ganda tool, with the support of the artists who were involved.
These facts can all be verified. But talking about non governmental influence, it becomes far more difficult.
Both, destructive and primitive, agitational propaganda, no matter from which side, always has the upper hand, at least in the beginning.
It´s like playing chess: the forthright and therefore more aggressive whites make the first move, and usually make the most of an advantage, but not always.
Arts, no matter if its fine arts, literature, film or music, is as Fyodor Dostoyevsky's beautiful word — stushevatsya — describes. (there is no direct translation, but it means something like understatement, hiding, silently, sensitive)
Art is much more quiet, sensitive and sophisticated. It stands for freedom and pacifism. It seems to hide rather than putting itself forward.That´s why it is in a disadvantage at least to begin with.
Noise and provocation is usually an exception. For centuries art has always been international: the East and West and national barriers do not come into consideration.
This distinction always evokes our sense of curiosity.
That´s why we are not very often taken seriously, but also get underestimated.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Anna Akhmatova, who wrote:
The gold rusts, the steel corrodes
And the marble crumbles — everything is ready to die.
On this earth, sorrow stands most firm,
While the most lasting thing is the regal word.
This quote comes from the only nation I know in which so many poets were willing to die for the sake of their poetry.
Tyrants and instigators of war in history become false giants.
They are diminished proportionally down to the period of time which separates us and them. Some, thankfully, after only one night.
However, with poets and artists, the opposite is true.
Over the course of decades and centuries, they enrich and change my life and that of my friends with their incredible imaginations.
To conclude, I would like to quote a certain western politician.
At the beginning of the Second World War, as a cut of the cultural budget was planned to make way for increased military expenditure, Winston Churchill said the following:
"What, then, are we fighting for?"
Karl Regensburger is director of ImPulsTanz, the Vienna International Dance Festival
Russia is the country of the avant-garde, especially in the performing arts. It sparked a revolution in scenery and acting; film, painting and photography; and costumes, music, dance and choreography. It continues to be influential today, especially through collaboration. The Sacre complex has been important for decades in aesthetics, culture and geopolitics. 2013 proved highly significant in terms of reconstruction, deconstruction and repetition, as well as interpretations and revisions. There were several fine examples at the ImPulsTanz festival: Sacre (David Wampach), DeSacre! (Christine Gaigg) and NO SACRE (Ismael Ivo). Now I'll leap (Faux Pas?) into the present. And at present I, as the director of the largest contemporary dance festival in Europe (specifically, in Vienna — could the connection be any closer?), am truly pained when I wonder: where are today's contemporary Russian dancers? And most importantly, how can we build a relationship with one another? The avant-garde was the 20th century. The beginning of the 21st century is marked by artistic collaboration and connection. We need to start everything from scratch. Some steps have already been taken in this direction: in 2014, a number of dancers from Russia participated in our scholarship program danceWEB. We must continue this dialogue. We must bring the legacy of the avant-garde to new approaches in art, where there is a historical consciousness of form, a highly developed sense of collectivism, a sharp sense of humor and intellectual depth. For this we need, as always, state support and public recognition. Let's work on this!