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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Korina Complements Conceptual Art Mythology

It's rare in the present financial climate to see top-quality contemporary museum exhibitions in Russia, rarer still to see two opening simultaneously and complementing each other thematically. But judging by the group show "Another Mythology" at the National Center for the Contemporary Arts and Irina Korina's solo retrospective at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, both of which opened Monday, the paucity of state funds has done nothing to impede the creativity and expression on offer.

The former aims to catalog both Russian and Western artists' attempts to develop existing myths and create new ones, presenting veteran conceptualists and a few younger artists on the domestic front alongside foreign stars like the Chapman Brothers and Tony Matelli.

The main divide, however, is more along barriers of age than nationality, specifically between those who came of age under the conceptualism dominant in Soviet unofficial art and those who did not. Operating under the guiding principle that an idea itself could be a work of art, the conceptualists' work ignored traditionally formal and material limits in favor of text-heavy, intellectually complex installations.

Those represented here still eagerly plough the same furrow. Vadim Zakharov's "Double Mythology" features black-and-white photographs spouting long beards that conceal their written explanations, showing that "reality, which serves as the framework for any myth, turned into a mythological character itself, a wise elder." "Psychedelic realist" Pavel Pepperstein's texts often trump his exhibitions themselves -- here his paintings illustrate scenes from a characteristically bizarre short story he based on "The Lord of the Rings".

The younger artists tend to aim for a stronger visual impact and work on a larger scale, noticeable particularly in AES+F's apocalyptic video piece "Last Riot" and Gosha Ostretsov's Grand-Guignol explorations with comic-book aesthetics. Nonetheless, many of these works have equally strong mythological bases, whether from traditional culture or their own invention. Marina Abramovic's "Balkan Erotic Epic" was inspired by research into peasant fertility rites in her native Serbia, while the photograph of Oleg Kulik dressed as Jesus and carrying a dead pig in Danilovsky meat market, is accompanied by a Nietzsche-inspired "Ten Commandments of Zoophrenia".

"These are artists who present their own mythological world inhabited not by gods and heroes, but monsters, from before even Greek civilization," curator Irina Gorlova said. "But they really do cross over in their works. Each of them is building their own myth, their own cosmogony."

Visitors to MMOMA across the Garden Ring can immerse themselves in Irina Korina's singular world. One of Moscow's most promising young artists at just 33, the former theater designer is by anyone's standards the leading practitioner of the installation genre for which Moscow conceptualists became famous. What makes Korina entirely distinct from her countrymen at NCCA, however, is the absence of any text to her exhibitions.

"With [Ilya] Kabakov or Zakharov, there's always a story. Ira works exclusively on emotions," explained Elena Selina, whose XL Gallery has nurtured Korina's career for 10 years. "Her installations lie somewhere between memories and sensations. It's a completely different working principle, but it doesn't interfere with her formal imagination."

This lack of explanation is Korina's greatest strength, as it places greater demands on the viewer and makes him or her feel almost part of the installations themselves. "Urangst" removes any chance for passive observation by covering the floor with wooden planks that slip out from under your feet.

The padded corridor in "Back to the Future" leads to an almost naively painted mural of Soviet cosmonauts. Though, unlike the conceptualists, Korina remembers her youth under Brezhnev fondly; the wall separating the waving spacemen from the viewer evokes a sad nostalgia for futures long consigned to the past.

"You can bring across a story or a context quite simply," Selina said. "But it's very difficult to convey memories, or find nonmaterial self-expression in general. More than anyone else of her generation, Irina understands what installation is."

"Another Mythology" runs to March 1 at the State Center of Contemporary Art, 13 Zoologicheskaya Ulitsa, Bldg. 2. Metro Krasnopresnenskaya. www.ncca.ru. Tel. 254-8492.
Installations runs to March 9 at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 17 Yermolayevsky Pereulok. Metro Mayakovskaya. www.mmoma.ru. Tel. 694-2890.