Russia as a Center of Contemporary Art

Russian artists are known throughout the world, including as the founders of contemporary art

Modern art, the phenomenon of contemporary art, begins with the Russian avant-garde. Malevich, Kandinsky, Tatlin, Rodchenko, and Vertov — it is impossible to imagine western art of the 20th century without them. The art revolution of the 1960s with its address to happenings, acts and performances also "sprouted" from the culture of stunts of the Futurists and OBERIU group members. However, the Iron Curtain cut off Russian artists from the world process for a long time. How is contemporary art presented in post-Soviet Russia and where you can see it?

From the Underground to the Country's Main Venues

In many respects, modern Russian art inherited the traditions of the Soviet underground. Ilya Kabakov's Total Installations put the viewer in the copy of the communal world, and his demo stands carry the principles of Soviet communal life to an absurdity, as he could paste a bold-type remark "Whose fly is it? It's Olga Leshko's fly" next to a fly. Erik Bulatov's Socialist art imposes Soviet slogans and posters on the landscapes and urban sketches, so that the intrusion of officialdom into nature and their essential incompatibility become visible. Dmitriy Prigov's visual poetry reproducing typical Soviet phrases or words from magazine covers acquire new meanings through repeated repetition and geometric arrangement on a sheet. Andrey Monastyrsky conducts Collective Actions, including "journeys out of the city": after passing through a huge field, participants receive certificates with a date and a seal which confirm that they took part in this campaign; or they may see a banner in the woods with the following statement: I'M NOT COMPLAINING AND I LIKE ALL OF THIS DESPITE THE FACT THAT I'VE NEVER BEEN HERE AND I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THESE LOCATIONS... Moscow conceptualism is often called the second Russian avant-garde. These artists continued to promote the politicization of aesthetics that was first proposed in modernism, and they also experimented with the art form, however, they abandoned the utopian vision of modernity and offered mainly anti-utopian and critical attitude. By dissecting the Soviet ideological language, they proved the meaninglessness and inhumanity of the collectivist way of life surrounding them, and also tried to overcome the impersonal nature of the generally accepted communication in society.

This art movement used to be underground, but today the masterpieces of Moscow conceptualism occupy a significant place in museums around the world and are regularly exhibited in Russia.

This art movement used to be underground, but today the masterpieces of Moscow conceptualism occupy a significant place in museums around the world and are regularly exhibited in Russia.

The Action Art and Performance Practices

Performative shift which represented a transition from art in the form of creating artifacts, paintings or sculptures to the art of action, when the art is considered to be the process carried out by the artist using their body as the material, ended in Russia after Perestroika (which is Russian for "reconstruction"). At that time, socialist realism ceased to be the main and only style that was supported by the state, and information about the artistic processes in Europe and America became more accessible. By developing the ideas of futurists on the one hand and western performance artists of the 1960s and subsequent years on the other, Russian artists in the 1990s and 2000s reinterpreted the very concept of art and increasingly went into public spaces to interact directly with the audience.

Thus, Oleg Kulik became a "dogman" on a leash and on all fours he not only barked and rushed at passers-by, but also voluntarily exposed himself to the most risky direct contact with visitors. Alexander Brener challenged Yeltsin to a boxing match right on Red Square, and he also disrupted the performances of popular poets within the framework of his art of disrupting other art. Elena Kovylina treated the audience with caviar while walking on broken glass, or invited volunteers for a cup of tea, and then set fire to the table without interrupting the conversation. Lisa Morozova offered the audience to literally hang noodles in a museum or to experience an "intimate" handshake from behind a black wall, so they had only the tactile contact without seeing each other. Campaigns of Peter Pavlensky and the War group are on the verge of political activism and performance, they problematize all possible ethical and aesthetic prohibitions.

Artists are embracing pop culture and playing with its techniques and images. Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe transforms into various media personalities, from Marilyn Monroe and Soviet actress Lyubov Orlova to Russian politician Valentina Matvienko and Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko.

Since the 2000s, in Russia as well as around the world, the genre of delegated performance has been actively developing when the action is conducted not by the artist, but by the performers who were hired by them and follow their instructions. At the same time, the performativeness began to attract the theater in its legitimate, musical, and dance forms. In the 2010s, the performance festival takes place at the Meyerhold Theater Center, and one of the most important awards in the field of contemporary art — Sergey Kuryokhin Prize — equally nominates both representatives of modern art and theater.

At the same time, artists today pay great attention to multimedia, both traditional video art and online technologies. Media is not opposed to the "physical presence," but rather enhances it and explores the very nature of augmented reality. The most complete archive of media works and publications dedicated to media artists can be found on the MediaArtLab website.

At the same time, artists today pay great attention to multimedia, both traditional video art and online technologies. Media is not opposed to the "physical presence," but rather enhances it and explores the very nature of augmented reality

The most significant representatives of modern Russian art

Today, Moscow conceptualists Viktor Pivovarov, Yuri Albert, Vadim Zakharov, and Irina Nakhova continue their activities.

Anatoly Osmolovsky, a pioneer of Moscow actionism of the 1990s, became a supporter of non-abstract art (i.e. art that rejects entertainment and theatricality and is immersed in the ordinary without any exhibition markers); in the mid-2000s, he switched to gallery object art, and today his masterpieces are exhibited around the world. He heads the BAZA Institute of Contemporary Art.

The artist and art critic Dmitry Gutov is a person without whom it is impossible to imagine Russian art of the past 30 years.

Irina Korina works in the genre of installation art. Victor Alimpiev, Yakov Kazhdan, and Blue Noses and Provmyza groups create video art. Leonid Tishkov exposes surreal paintings and objects. The most famous at the international level is the Russian group AES+F, which creates multimedia projects as provocative series that bring together the perfect visual images and taboo topics of Western culture through unexpected special effects.

Haim Sokol explores the topics of collective memory and trauma.

Where can you see contemporary art?

The main exhibition grounds of contemporary art are located in the capitals.

As for Moscow, you can visit the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA) with its numerous sites and frequently updated exhibitions and educational projects; or the Garage Museum, which is conveniently located in Gorky Park opposite the New Tretyakov Gallery with the main collection of Russian art of the 20th century. Together with the nearby Muzeon Park, the Moscow Museum and Lumiere Photography Center on Bolotny island, they represent a convenient cultural route. Multimedia Art Museum at Ostozhenka primarily holds photo exhibitions, but is not limited to them. WINZAVOD Contemporary Art Center, which was established more than a decade ago in the former industrial area includes 11 galleries, and together with the Artplay creative cluster it forms a modern art district near the Kurskaya metro station, which is a vivid example of a radical creative transformation of urban spaces. V-A-C Foundation holds international exhibitions in different city locations. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman pavilion at VDNH also periodically turn to contemporary art. The exhibitions of contemporary art, which are primarily multimedia-based, take place in the New Wing of the Gogol House, and exhibitions and performances are held at the New Space Theater of Nations. In addition to exhibitions, the Solyanka State Gallery invites everyone to its school of performance. The dance performance is promoted at ZIL Cultural Center. The National Center for Contemporary Arts holds exhibitions, lectures and workshops in Moscow and other cities: Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Tomsk, Samara, Vladikavkaz, and St. Petersburg.

The central location for contemporary art in St. Petersburg is the General Staff Building of the Hermitage. The largest private museum of contemporary art in Russia – Erarta – is located on Vasilievsky island in St. Petersburg. Marina Gisich Gallery, Anna Nova and others regularly hold exhibitions. The country's only Street Art Museum is located in the Eastern part of the city.

Ural Industrial Biennale is the most important regional project in the field of contemporary art. Public and land art objects are exhibited in the Nikola-Lenivets Art Park in the Kaluga Region, where the landscape art festival, Archstoyanie is held twice a year.

In Voronezh, exhibitions of contemporary art are held during the Platonic Festival. Performances and exhibitions are constantly held in Perm as part of the international Diaghilev Festival. Also, the PERMM Museum of Contemporary Art is located in Perm. The art of the south of Russia is represented in the Museum of Modern Fine Art at Dmitrovskaya in Rostov-on-Don, which is the first private museum in Russia. In Kazan, the best projects are implemented by the Zhivoy Gorod Foundation supporting contemporary art and the Smena Center of Modern Culture.

To discover new names in Russian contemporary art, we recommend looking for more information about the nominees for the Innovation Award and Kandinsky Prize

Articles

The Silver Necklace of Russia

The Silver Necklace of Russia can be called an analog of the famous Golden Ring tourist route, except that all of its points are in the north-west of the country.

Musical Russia

Journey, music, adventures, dozens of new friends, and summer.

The Russian Arctic

The Northern Sea Route is one of the longest navigable routes in the world and at the same time the shortest sea route between the European part of Russia and the Far East.

Experience the Taste of Life

Today, ethnographic, event-driven and artisanal types of tourism are in trend, and it is quite understandable.

Unusual Russian Cuisine

Many believe that Russian cuisine is vodka and pancakes, caviar and pies, dumplings and borsch.

Best Places in Russia for Large-Group Vacations

To get an unforgettable experience of traveling to Russia, it is best to come here with a large group.

The Silver Necklace of Russia

The Silver Necklace of Russia can be called an analog of the famous Golden Ring tourist route, except that all of its points are in the north-west of the country.

Musical Russia

Journey, music, adventures, dozens of new friends, and summer.

The Russian Arctic

The Northern Sea Route is one of the longest navigable routes in the world and at the same time the shortest sea route between the European part of Russia and the Far East.

Experience the Taste of Life

Today, ethnographic, event-driven and artisanal types of tourism are in trend, and it is quite understandable.

Unusual Russian Cuisine

Many believe that Russian cuisine is vodka and pancakes, caviar and pies, dumplings and borsch.

Best Places in Russia for Large-Group Vacations

To get an unforgettable experience of traveling to Russia, it is best to come here with a large group.

More Publications

Russia.Travel

Let’s go to Russia!