Sunday, 6 January 2013

Russian Thought-Provoking Art in Saatchi Gallery. Tsukanov and Socialist Worker rant. Communism and Present-Day Russia.Sots Art.Controversial Religious Paintings

Saatchi Gallery

Charles Saatchi has long been a collector of international contemporary art; he opened his first gallery in 1985 in a 30,000 sq ft warehouse in St. John's Wood, North London. In 1992 he showed YBA (Young British Artist) Damien Hirst’s Pickled Shark to an astonished world, and in recent years the Saatchi Gallery, now in Chelsea, with 70,000 sq ft, has exhibited contemporary art by largely unknown artists from India, Germany, China and Korea and elsewhere. Now it is Russia’s turn.

His latest exhibition, Gaiety is the most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: New Art From Russia is on the first two floors and features the following eighteen artists:

Jānis Avotiņš Daniel Bragin Dasha Fursey Liudmila Konstantinova Irina Korina Valery Koshlyakov Daria Krotova Boris Mikhailov Nika Neelova Vikenti Nilin Gosha Ostretsov Sergey Pakhomov Anna Parkina Yelena Popova Roman Savchenko Dasha Shishkin Tamuna Sirbiladze Sergei Vasiliev.

The second exhibition on the third floor is in collaboration with the Tsukanov Family Foundation, a charity. The collection was only started in 2000 by Igor Tsukanov.

Boris Mikhailov, 74, from Ukraine, lives and works in Berlin and Kharkov. He took 413 photos of people he saw living from hand to mouth in his former home town during 1997-1998. He calls them bomzhes, “those people without a stable residence, practically living in the streets, wherever they can stretch their bones.…What happened on the ruins of the ex-Soviet Empire is still unique. Motivations are different. These guys’ shabbiness is the mirror of the ruin and disappointment of a much larger number of people, most of whom no longer feel safe and wealthy as in the Soviet era; many people’s ideals are gone forever, others have simply gone mad! I have taken pictures of them and I have enjoyed it, and maybe the whole world has a better understanding of the post-communist dramas through these sequences taken directly after nature.”

Mikhailov paid, fed and posed the bomzhes he photographed, but there is no denying their wretched physical condition and appearance.
Capital 2012. Irina Korina was born in 1977 and lives in Moscow. She has hung plastic bags onto a gleaming modern pillar. Her sculpture shows waste: the title suggests capitalism and urban decay in process.

Vikenti Nilin was born in 1971 and lives and works in Moscow. His startling photos show motionless people perched on window-sills and balconies of tall high-rise flats. They seem to be devoid of emotion, and do not seem to care whether they fall or not.

Sergei Vasiliev, 76, lives in Chelyabinsk, Russia. He took photos of prisoners’ homemade and often subversive tattoos between 1989-1993 during his time as a newspaper photographer and prison warden, and eventually documented them for KGB records. “To have no tattoos would have meant the lowest status, a lack of toughness; to have certain tattoos could be the sign of an untouchable”. These photos show the men looking anything but tough, as if all the fight has gone out of them, they look defenceless.
Gosha Ostretsov was born in Moscow in 1967. He spent ten years in Paris but is now back in Moscow. His work is dark and thought-provoking; below he  portrays bureaucrats in suits in prison cells.who are suffering from the same torture they have previously inflicted on others.
Gosha Ostretsov Criminal Government Cells 2008

Liudmila Konstantinova was born in 1980 in Moscow, where she still lives.Paintings For Holes 2011  consists of eighteen different canvases arranged as a whole in a geometric pattern, and comes as light relief after Ostretsov .

Valery Koshlyakov Notre Dame 2008
Valery Koshlyakov, 50, lives and works in Moscow. His paintings of monuments are collages made from flattened cardboard boxes. There is no denying their splendour but the way they have been put together implies in Lupe Nùñez-Fernández’ words ‘a failed Utopia’.

Nika Neelove was born in 1987 in Moscow, but now lives and works in London. She makes bold sculptures from pieces of old burnt wood,   to which she has attached wax bell clappers or old ropes. The titles hint at darker things however. The photos of her sculptures show the lovely floors of the Saatchi gallery too.

 Scaffolds Today, Monuments Tomorrow 2011 
Nika Neelova Principles of Surrender 2010
Breaking the Ice: Moscow, 1960s-1989 on the third floor shows art from the Soviet era, which is owned by the Tsukanov Family Foundation.This collection was only started by Igor Tsukanov in 2000, and seems to have more gaiety than the art downstairs, even though it was painted during the Soviet era.  Sots Art, a combination of Soviet and Socialist Realism and Pop Art is shown in abundance.  The Gaiety title downstairs was taken from a quote of Stalin's and should have been used for Breaking the Ice.

Incidentally the Tsukanovs have incurred the wrath of The Socialist Worker online, a revolutionary anti-capitalist paper in Britain, over the fact that their Foundation provides two or three scholarships for children of Russian origin to go to Eton. It is an extraordinary read, and not a paper seen in many newsagents.

The exhibition features the following artists:
Grisha Bruskin Eric Bulatov Francisco Infante Ilya Kabakov Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid Alexander Kosolapov Dmitry Krasnopevtsev Lidia Masterkova Vladimir Nemukhin Boris Orlov Dmitry Plavinsky Viktor Pivovarov Dmitry Prigov Oscar Rabin Mikhail Roginsky Evgeny Rukhin Leonid Sokov Oleg Tselkov Oleg Vassiliev Vladimir Veisberg Yury Zlotnikov
Ilya Kabakov Holiday 2, 1987
Kabakov was born in 1933 and has been living in New York since 1987. “holidays have a place today as well”. However the insert does not look like a picnic on a beach.
Leonid Sokov was born in 1941 and has lived in New York since 1980
Sokov: Lock, hammer and sickle to dollar sign 1994

Sokov's sculpture of Giacometti  and Lenin  deftly mixes  east and west and a traditional vs a modern sculpture. Sokov's Glasses For Every Soviet Person 1976 hang from the ceiling. His sculpture Lock, Hammer and Sickle to Dollar Sign 1994, is another fusion of east and west. Sokov lives in New York and says " According to Rolan Bart, I brought all the banality, kitsch, commonness out of the Soviet trash heap and into the world of high art. I took the detonator for aggression out of the arsenal of Soviet everyday symbols, and turned them into fun objects resembling traditional toys".
Erik Bulatov was born in 1933 and is one of the founders of the Moscow Conceptual School. He spoke of the times in the Soviet era "‘Through my paintings I wanted to express that reality and life we were submerged into. The space we inhabited was entirely deformed by our frighteningly aggressive ideology. But because people had lived all their lives in this space, they had begun to perceive it as normal, as natural. I personally wanted to show the abnormality and unnaturalness of this normal space".

Erik Bulatov No Entry 2006 and Seva's Blue
To an uninitiated western observer the paintings seem to be very pleasing geometric compositions in blue.

 Oleg Tselkov was born in 1934. His paintings feature masks not faces in arresting images.

Five Faces  Tselkov 1980
 Oleg Tselkov Two Faced Person 1981

The five faces are somehow reminiscent of Russian matryoshka nesting dolls but Two Faced Person 1981 obviously suggests darker things. 

Simon Hewitt in the Huffington Post says Tselkov's "Last Supper ranks alongside Picasso's Guernica as the most powerful group image of the 20th century. It should be bought for the nation and hung in Tate Modern".
The Last Supper  Tselkov
Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid seem to be a dual partnership like our Gilbert and George. They now live in New York. “If pop-art was born by the overproduction of things and their advertising, then Sots Art was born of the overproduction of ideology and its propaganda, including visual propaganda… After the end of the Soviet Union an occurrence of Social Realism was put into historical quotation marks and became Sots Art.” Vitaly Komar.
Komar & Melamid Red Flag 1983.

(Note it is without hammer and sickle)

Kosolapov Lenin & Coca-Cola 1982. 

Alexander Kosolapov was born in 1943. He is a Sots Artist too.  “ In creating this radical collage, (Lenin & Coca-Cola) the artist implied that despite the conflicts of the relationship between the two systems, the distinctive signs of which are its symbols, their main goal - to convince the population in the authenticity and honesty of their goods – undoubtedly coincide.” Margarita Tupitsina.
Kosolapov 1985 Icon-Caviar
Kosolapov 2005. (Untitled by Saatchi) 
Kosolapov has offended the Russian Church and other Christian religions with his use of religious symbols. Above are two works featuring the outlines of a traditional Virgin Mary and Jesus  filled in with caviar.  Icon-Caviar the original,  'executed' (one cannot say painted) in 1985  had to be removed from an exhibition in the Tretyakov Gallery in  Moscow  after protests from the Orthodox Church.  It is interesting that the Saatchi Gallery has not given a title to the version shown in this exhibition.

Viktor Pivovarov was born in 1937 in Moscow,. He is a friend of Ilya Kabakov and one of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism.  He has lived in Prague since 1982. He started off as a book illustrator, in particular of children's books and his work is full of fun. He paints series, and his friends, the poets Kholin and Sapgir are shown in different situations at the exhibition.  Flying, Flying is a tribute to his friend Ilya Kabakov.

                                          Viktor Pivovarov Kholin and Sapgir

Pivovarov  Flying, Flying. 1973
Mikhail Roginsky, 1931-2004, was another SotsArtist. His rendition of a stove Mosgaz 1964 is touching and realistic. He also taught art to prisoners.  He made Red Door in1965,  which was considered very avant-garde in Russia at the time, but it is reminiscent of Magritte's Ceci n'est pas une pipe, which was painted in 1929. To Roginsky's credit, he did not see why there was a fuss about his sculpture of a non-opening door as he often used to paint and make everyday objects that he saw around him during communist times.


This isn't a door

Saatchi calls himself an Artoholic, he is generous, his galleries are free of charge, and in 2010 he donated his gallery to be renamed the Museum of Contemporary Art for London and some 200 paintings to the British nation. He is married to Nigella Lawson but likes the simplest of foods. He likes playing scrabble. He is somehow looked down on by critics for showing eclectic mixes by unknown artists some of whom they rubbish in their articles, but the public footfall is the surest proof that he is doing the right thing :in 2009 - 2010 - 2011 the Saatchi Gallery presented 7 of the 10 Most Visited Exhibitions in London (The Art Newspaper's International Survey Of Museum Attendance).

The website is excellent with handy reviews and biographies of the artists.The gallery is in a splendid building which used to be an orphanage, then the Duke of York’s HQ/ Territorial Army base. The smart mess bar, restaurant and cafe also have good art, food and wine.

Breaking the Ice: Moscow Art, 1960-80s is on until 24 Feb 2013.
Gaiety is the most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: New Art from Russia is on until 5 May.
Duke of York's Square, King's Road, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW3 4SQ
Admission is free.