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Exhibition featuring works by post-war and contemporary Russian artists at Erarta Galleries Zurich
Pjotr Gorban, Demonstration. Oil on canvas, 170 x 188 cm. Photo: Courtesy Erarta Galleries Zurich.

ZURICH.- Erarta Galleries Zurich presents In Search for Inner Freedom, an exhibition featuring works by post-war and contemporary Russian artists. The selected works touch upon the intimate questions of freedom and choice, and share with its audience an overview of how these issues have been addressed by Russian artists of different generations.

Freedom is one of the key definitions in Russian philosophical, political and aesthetical thought of the epoch, starting with the reforms of Peter the Great in the 18th Century and escalating to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The intellectual stratum of Russian society received both reforms and the revolution as the greatest attempts of acquiring freedom, and yet, paradoxically, these unprecedented events, originally aimed to liberate, caused the unexampled oppressions of freedom of thought and self-expression of 20th Century Russia.

It is quite natural therefore that freedom not only became a social issue, but also an artistic struggle for Russian artists of the 20th Century. It consequently seems to be equally important for the Russian contemporary artists to continue to engage with this issue.

The elder generation is represented by works from the “nonconformists” – Yevgeny Ukhnalev, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Yelena Figurina, David Plaksin and Pyotr Gorban. In the 1970s these artists started to create art which was out of tune with the official doctrine of Soviet culture. In a general sense, the nonconformists’ aim was not to fight the lack of external freedom imposed by the Soviet state; their search for inner freedom was much more vital. They had to find the strength to work in the conditions of almost complete isolation from the international art community, as well as from the wide audience in their own country.

The nonconformists’ attempt to gain their artistic freedom within the Soviet totalitarian society has become part of Russia’s history. Nevertheless, the problem itself did not disappear with the Soviet Union – works by younger artists are a testimony to this.

Artists from the 1980s–1990s have witnessed the collapse of the Soviet empire and a society reconsidering its own values and history. They have demonstrated a strong desire to dispose of the dominating stereotype that an artist should define their involvement clearly within a particular political camp. Works by Vladimir Migachev, Galina Khailu and Vadim Makhnitsky are called the romantic ones – escaping the process of re-valuation and withdraw all political and societal themes from their art, acknowledging the importance of subjectivity and deep personal experience instead. Yet, elements of social form still penetrate their works as frightening and confusing settings. This approach is supported by Yuri Tatyanin and Nikolai Kopeikin, whose individualism finds its expression an ironic reflection of the national philosophy’s values and its attempts to find universally significant definitions of freedom.

The new generation of artists who emerged in the first decade of the 21st Century, revalue the question of freedom with new force and energy. In works by Stanislav Kazimov, Semen Motolianets and Rustam Ismagilov this problem reveals itself in the images of barriers between people and freedom, which exist in present-day society. For these young artists, individual issues are inseparable from the societal ones, and that is why their works equate external and inner freedom in a rather convincing, though slightly naïve way.

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