30.10.2008 - 06.12.2008
Introduction The exhibition “Intimate Journals” is dedicated to the post-Soviet current art scene of the two largest Russian cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Several artists from Moscow such as Igor Makarevich, Daria Surovtseva and Mikhail Akimov are presented alongside famous St.Petersburg artists from both the old and young generation such as Anatoly Zaslavsky, Nikolai Sazhin, Latif Kazbekov, Jury Shtapakov, Oleg Yakhnin, Alexander Dashevsky, Vladimir Bystrov, Vitaly Pushnitsky, Roshid Dominov. Putting the accent on artists from St. Petersburg is an exception for collective exhibitions of the post Soviet Union art which normally focuse attention on the circle of Moscow Conceptualists. The artistic scene in St. Petersburg is more closely knit and reacts with more restraint to the changes in politics, fashion, and market. It has, nonetheless, its own distinct character that is less known to the Western European observer.
It was possible, already in the last part of the Soviet Regime, to observe the different trends in Moscow and Leningrad art. The artists and intellectuals that made up the circle of Moscow Conceptualists(including the famous Igor Makarevich and Mikhail Akimov from the younger generation), while circulating within the boundaries of the Soviet system’s given or authorized language, examined its structure with the help of post-structuralist analytical irony. By turning the collective power discourse into an art object, they not only broke through the already waning authority, they also revived it as a personal rhetoric and visual environment.
Igor Makarevich was a member of the group “Collective Actions”(1986-1989.) Following in the footsteps of many Russian artists, he viewed Malevich’s “Black Square” as a power symbol. Mikhail Akimov works with the collective visual memory of the people and forms of anonymous art such as photo portraits, medals, letters of soldiers, newspaper photography, puppet theatre, collections of household relics, etc. He reduces collective experience to an individual experience, which he stages as a world of intimate childhood memories. The duplicated icons attain a sentimental aura of memories. The impersonal turns into personal, reproduction into original-- a part of family history. One must be careful, however; the sentimentality is present here as a cultural construct of the Soviet epoch. Akimov reflects the language of sentimentality, creating a type of archaeological privatisation of the State pictorial nature.
The search for its own language and topics is a trademark of St. Petersburg art. The uniqueness of the St. Petersburg Cosmos with its aestheticism, its melancholy, and its poeticized and mystifying history stamps the art itself with an individual, plaintive mood. The visual aesthetic and emotionality are more important than the concept; the artists are oriented towards a confidential dialog with the observer, and the most important medium remains the painting or its new form, the screen.
The younger generation of artists are continuing the intimate dialogue with the observer that was initiated many years ago in the art and literature of St. Petersburg. Here, “man” remains the measure of all things, leading us to hope for a return of humanistic values in art. At the Moscow Biennale 2005, St. Petersburg’s contribution was entitled “Human Project.” Vladimir Bystrov’s forceful video work “22.07.2002” was shown, which opens an endless emotional perspective in a simple conversation with one’s neighbour. As a result of his great success, the film was acquired by the television channel “Arte.” In his intimate videos, Vladimir Bystrov achieves a close emotional relationship with the observers of his figures, and through this he opens a perspective to the infinity of the human soul. Letters from real women underlie Jury Stapakov’s series of paintings. The artists often identify themselves through a deep personal relationship to their surroundings; the area of the body (Nikolai Sashin), the area of their city—these shape the being of the St. Petersburg artists. The experience of a place as a configuration of space, material, and personal and collective history, are the main themes of the artists Anatoly Saslavsky, Vyatsheslav Mikhailov, Yury Shtapakov and Alexander Dashevsky.
St. Petersburg was and remains the measure of the academic school with all its various artistic techniques. The artists Yury Shtapakov, Vitaly Pushnitsky, Latif Kazbekov, Pyotr Shvtsov and Oleg Yakhnin work actively with the traditional techniques of graphic art and the creation of paper, thereby keeping up the relationship to handicrafts that is often lost in the context of the new media.
At the end of the 90’s there arose in Russia a need to approach, not only the Socialist Realism, but also the classical heritage, in a new manner. This happened mainly in St. Petersburg—the capital city of the classic museum style. Several representatives of the new generation of St. Petersburg artists appointed, voluntarily and ironically, the classic to “national style.” Grigory Maiofis does this with his staging of black and white photography. In his historical stylization through use of the older photo techniques, he plays not only with Russian fetishes such as ballet or animal circuses, but also with the quest of the Russian art for a “true” depiction. Tatiana Fedorova studies the forgotten painting techniques of the old masters in her quest for a new paradise.
The most works in the exhibition “Intimate Journals” characterize their authors very aptly, showing a part of the life work of contemporary artists already able to reach the status of a museum artist in Russia. Behind each work there is a story of an attempt to find one's own way in the art world, a chronicle of a personal relationship to 'urbi et orbi', to one’s own creative position. Each work represents in its own way a part of a personal journal - one that has been laid open for us all to read.