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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exposition Mixes Art With Elvis




The King is dead.


Elvis Presley, long a distant second to the Beatles in the post-Soviet popular mind-set, had nonetheless earned himself a small and scrappy following of faithful Russian fans.


Moscow's most recent Elvis sighting, however, turns the icon on his ear and has some loyalists crying blasphemy. "Vinyl Bones," the new exhibit at downtown Moscow's XL gallery, is the collaborative effort of 12 young contemporary artists whose medium is the King, but whose message is rarely as simple as good old rock and roll.


In "My Love Can't Wait," a piece by Karina Demina, a pair of men's briefs are displayed with a record-player needle arm protruding from the front. Hanging nearby are a pair of frilly women's panties with Elvis painted in vivid colors on the crotch.


Mikhail Kosolapov's untitled work invites visitors to look through a glittery view finder at a picture of Presley kissing his mother. Slip on the accompanying earphones, and Kosolapov's off-key voice chimes in, singing the Latin phrase Kyrie Eleison - "Lord have mercy" - to the tune of "Love Me Tender."


The idea for the exhibit, which also forces visitors to perform the ultimate sacrilege - treading over scuffed Elvis LPs covering the floor - came after two art students, Oksana Dubrovskaya and Maxim Ilyukhin stumbled across the Russian Elvis Presley fan club's store of unsold records at the Glinka Musical Museum and persuaded the club's president, Viktor Plotnov, to let them use the records for an exhibition.


Plotnov, a die-hard Elvis fan since he first heard a scratchy samizdat recording in 1959, had been safeguarding the stashed vinyl after his fan club co-founder, Nadezhda Sevnitskaya, died last March. Sevnitskaya, whose stockpile of club-issued Elvis LPs had gone largely unsold after the advent of the CD, had denied past requests to turn over her collection to people hoping to smash the albums or bury them in snow in the name of art.


Plotnov, himself an artist, seemed slightly more mellow about the sanctity of the albums. "I went through all that in the '60s," he said, referring to the upstart exhibition organizers, all students at the Center for Contemporary Art sponsored by the Soros Foundation and the Open Society Institute. "Sevnitskaya wouldn't have understood, but I've got a relaxed attitude about it."


If anything, it was the somewhat guilty young artists who were less than relaxed, apparently fearing an invasion from angry Elvis fan club members calling for blood.


"They're very aggressive," said Dubrovskaya of the club members. "They think it's blasphemy and that we're mocking Elvis." Turning to co-organizer Ilyukhin, she asked if he thought the exhibit in fact made fun of Elvis. "Yes!" he answered happily.


Dubrovskaya's own exhibit is an Elvis mirror inspired by the film "Forrest Gump." Two hands and a foot protrude from the sides of the mirror, representing the young Gump, whose awkward walk on crutches in the film provides the inspiration for Presley's distinctive hip-shaking dance.


"When you look into a mirror you see yourself, but you also see yourself as Elvis Presley," she said.


"Each artist talks about Elvis and how he sees his legend," she continued. "All the works talk about myths, such as the myth - indicating Kosolapov's view finder piece - "that he slept with his mother."


Kosolapov, asked to explain the meaning behind his art, was momentarily at a loss.


"I don't think that there's one meaning. I tried to have multi-meanings," he began. "Well, I've already started to interpret - and that's bad. A person comes and sees what he sees."


"Vinyl Bones" runs through mid-October at the XL Gallery, 6 Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa, open weekdays from 4 to 8 p.m. Tel. 299-3724. Metro: Mayakovskaya. The exhibit can also be seen on the Internet at www.geocities.com/SoHo/8070/new.html