Idiocy International Language in Art

In Russia, some people call the it "The Funny Exhibit." The French dubbed it "L'idiotie Comme Strategie Contemporaine," or "Idiocy as a Strategy of Modernism." But the real name of this joint French-Russian art exhibit currently open at the Central House of Artists, is "Bezumny Dvoinik," or "The Idiot Twin."

"Twin" features art by well-known French, Russian, Swiss, Belgian and American artists - self-portrait art that depicts the very artists themselves as, of all things, idiots. Such art, according to organizers, is an extension of the belief that artists are entitled to total license - to any behavior, statement or attitude - in their work. Why, then, the "Twin"? It describes the artist's alter ego, the one who appears in the self-portraits, his inner idiot.

"An artist is like a woman," artist Konstantin Zvezdochyotov said. "Artists are forever posing in front of the mirror, looking at their own reflections and how different lighting changes them. To be an artist is a most coquettish business."

"We're using a person's tendency to parody himself," said Andrei Yerofeyev, the project's Russian organizer and director of the Tsaritsyno museum's collection of contemporary art. "This tendency manifests itself very differently in Russian and foreign art. Russia always destroys tradition, but foreign art uses tradition and plays with it," he said.

In Russia, Yerofeyev said, idiocy is a chronic condition, while, in France, it exists mostly within the realm of art. "Well-respected artists who lecture at western universities can act like idiots in their art," he said - and this evidence of their foolishness is on display at the exhibit.

While all the works at "Twin" are self-portraits in some sense of the word, most stray from the conventional definition of self-portrait: There are landscapes, a picture of a wardrobe and even a sculpture of a dinosaur.

"Reality and identity in fine art are no longer synonyms," Yerofeyev said. "There can be self-description without traditional portraiting - major changes are happening in the [self-portrait] genre."

Among the work exhibited at "Twin" is "Salad" by Dmitry Fine and Denis Salautin, a series of photographs which show the authors' faces covered in different types of salad.

They're not the only ones who are hiding their faces.

"I was looking for a persona behind which I could hide my real face," said another participating artist, Russia's Oleg Kulik, whose self-portrait sculpture "Family of the Future" has him having sex with a centaur.

"I've always wanted to look like a picture or a doll. Generally, I wanted to be explicit and pure," Kulik, whose art often shows him interacting with canines, said. "I wanted to be an animal, not to have a human face at all. It doesn't matter if it's a dog or a cat, but, when I become a dog, I don't think about my appearance because no one can see me. I feel like the ideal, correct creature."

Kulik may have something there. Dogs are indeed prominent at the exhibit. Each item in Daniel Schlier's series "Different Breeds" depicts a dog contemplating a work of art - by Edouard Manet, Jackson Pollock and others.

Other "Twin" works include Presence Panchounette's "The Stuttering Ornamentalist," an installation in which plates (on which quotations from famous artists are written) hang on a wall - they appear to be flying out of a sculpture of a discus ball which lies on the floor. Another, Avdei Ter-Oganyan's "Sets of Cliches" is an installation which consists of four pieces of cardboard which visitors are sometimes allowed to paint and manipulate to form works of art by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Unfortunately, the piece is off limits this month and visitors will have to resort to using their imaginations, rather than their hands.

Meanwhile, "Twin" has become so popular that the exhibit has been invited to visit a number of European countries. Early next year, the exhibit will tour Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg.

"Bezumny Dvoinik" runs through January 9 at the Central House of Artists, 10 Krymsky Val. Metro Park Kultury. Tel. 238-1245. The House of Artists is closed Mondays and Jan. 1. On Dec. 31, it is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.