Curator: Marat Guelman
International audiences are acquainted with contemporary Russian art only through a handful of traveling exhibitions, which have presented to the West art saturated with literature and passive protest, full of a peculiar sense of irony and critical pathos towards official institutions.
At the same time, the palette of Russian art is much more varied, colorful, and substantial. Experts familiar with the situation within the country see as incontrovertible the world-class professionalism of such prominent Russian artists as Valery Koshlyakov, Nikolay Polissky, Alexander Brodsky, Dmitry Gutov, Olga and Alexander Florensky, Vladimir Arkhipov, Anatoly Osmolovsky.
The exhibition Russian Povera forges a fundamentally new look at contemporary Russian art. The project presents Russian artists’ search in the sphere of materials and formal concerns. Marat Guelman, the curator of the project, formulated the show’s conceptual framework this way after encountering at the Perm Art Gallery a collection of wooden sculpture remarkable for its expressivity and simplicity of execution.
The show, which started its run in Perm, proved wrong those trying to force a false choice upon us: either contemporary or Russian. The exhibition shows Russian art as serious work with social and national identity – and, simultaneously, as a timely artistic quest. “Russian Povera” is a way of existence for contemporary art in Russia, an art that is authentic, deep, and substantive, characterized by the presence of form, a dialogue with art history, and social responsibility.
The name of the exhibition refers us back to the Italian arte povera. While one cannot say that works made from “poor” materials were created only in Italy and Russia, it is in these two countries that “poor art” has an ideological basis.
When the Italian arte povera artists, such as Jannis Kounellis and Mario Merz, brought into the exhibition space a pile of rocks or the remnants of an old boat, their goal was to encounter reality face to face, one on one. And this reality – rocks, old sacks, soot – eliminated all connotations, revealed nothing but itself, and became art. Russian artists, on the other hand, in using non-artistic materials did not reject beauty; quite the contrary, they aspired to it, aspired to create and express it in “poor” physical form. One can think back to Italian motifs in Valery Koshlyakov’s work, images from the 60s found in Dmitry Gutov, Nikolay Polissky’s monumentality, which harkens to both nature and architecture, or the refined objects created by Olga and Alexander Florensky. Alexander Brodsky’s early works made of unfired clay owed much to the fact that there were no large kilns in Russia; Koshlyakov began to paint on cardboard because he did not have money for canvas. Thus did the circumstances of Russian life become the founding principle of the worldview found in “poor” Russian art.
An artist takes things and materials of no worth and creates out of them something valuable, even precious. “Russian povera” is a process of creating beauty out of nothing.
The Perm exhibition, which started off the show’s world tour, will change the way in which contemporary Russian art is understood, will present this art in all of its richness, and will play an important role in the lives of Russian artists. Coming from the very depths of Russia, from the Ural mountains, a new look at Russian art will be offered to the international community.
Works presented by the most famous artists – a variety of objects, installations, assemblages, refined paintings and drawings, and pieces executed in new media unfamiliar to the Perm viewer – will guarantee the audience’s great interest in new forms of art.
Russian artists are obsessed with metaphor, native soil, and existential questions. They have many a story to tell; their viewers will have much to see and feel.
Translation: Ksenya Gurshtein