MOSCOW (REUTERS).- Up-and-coming artists competing for Russia's top contemporary art prize kicked off a marathon of exhibits in the Russian capital, which hosts the fourth Moscow Biennale.
A studio strewn with musty books, pages rustling in an artificial breeze; a multicolored play-dough cube squeezed into a cage; and a sphere made out of hundreds of plastic bags were among the 40 art works contesting the prestigious Kadinsky prize.
Named after abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1904), the award hands out cash-prizes of up to $55,100 to modern artists featured at Moscow's Central House of Artists.
"This exhibit cuts across Russia's contemporary art and art forms of today," said Shalva Breus, who founded the award in 2007.
Breus hailed an increase in the number of younger participants and avant-guard ideas alongside a steady decline in Soviet symbolism in Russian art.
"If three years ago, artists widely addressed imperial symbolism, be it of the Russian empire or the Soviet empire, there is no more of that today," he told Reuters at the opening. "There are many more abstract installations."
The fading references to Soviet symbolism in contemporary art highlights that award nominees are getting younger each year, with today's art students born at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The trend may also be market-driven, as younger collectors emerge in Russia, demanding art that speaks to post-Communist era, participants said.
"The buyers of Russian modern art are mostly Russians, and the new emerging trend is that there are a lot more younger collectors nowadays: The so-called 'Progressive Youth'," said Mikhail Molochnikov, a Russian artist working in Moscow, Berlin and Zurich galleries.
Globalization is also erasing the focus on local politics and history, experts said. Nevertheless, a few artists waxed nostalgic for Soviet times and one work -- "First Grade" -- depicted the legs of schoolchildren in traditional Soviet gear.
While themes are changing, Russian contemporary artists lagged behind their Western peers in the use of innovative materials, Breus said.
"We are trying to catch up with the West and we are copying European artists but we are definitely still falling behind," he said.
A jury will vote on the winners by the end of the exhibit, which is on until October 7. There are three categories in which to win: "Project of the Year," "Best Young Artist," and "Media-art Project of the Year."
The fourth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art opens on Thursday, lighting up galleries across the city until November.
($1 = 0.725 Euros)
(Reporting By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Paul Casciato)