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Galerie Gmurzynska in Switzerland shows a slice of visual contemporary art in Russia
Vladimir Kozin, Pubic Louse (Pthirus Pubis), 2010–2011. Automobile rubber, wire; spiral, 52 x 58 x 13 cm (each)

ZUG.- It seems that the beginning of the 21st century is not a time for pompous statements in art. In all likelihood, we have entered into an era of the latest in a series of a reexamination of values. Irony, self-deprecating humor and “conversations” with the viewer about nothing in particular often accompany such transitional periods. In Russia in the 19th century, this would apply to Anton Chekhov in literature, Isaac Levitan in landscape painting and Andrei Ryabushkin in his genre works in which the present is symbolized by the past. In the 20th century, this kind of expressive silence is characteristic for works made during the Khrushchev Thaw period. Currently, something similar is happening in public life. Young people of the current generation, who are free of internal limitations and self-censorship, free themselves from stereotypes and create new genres, forms and techniques in art that differ from those accepted in the past. They are much freer than the previous generation. That is why the art of young artists is so immensely interesting. It reflect s and expresses how a significant part of society, the part to whom the future belongs, understands the world.

This exhibition is not large. It includes just a bit more than ... works. Even in such a small amount, however, several extremely interesting indicators for contemporary Russian art can be found. One of these is the attention paid by many artists to the life of insects. Idyllic scenes with birds or still-lifes with insects, popular in Russia in the 18th century through the beginning of the 19th century, served more as a demonstration of the skills of the artists behind them than symbols of certain thoughts or ideas. Contemporary Russian artists, independent of one another , have suddenly turned their attention to the world of those who fly and crawl, using them not only as a part of nature, but also as metaphors. At an exhibition organized by the Russian Museum (St. Petersburg, 2013), beetles, spiders, frogs, cockroaches, flies and other kinds of insects not only “inhabit” the world, but live within it, as if compensating for man’s passivity. In various forms, this theme is represented in the works of young artist being displayed in Zug. In Sergei Danilov’s unusual sculptures, beetles are examined as if under a magnifying glass. The beetles are gold, and gloriously march across surfaces that are also gold. Evgenia Konovalova’s ubiquitous cockroaches metaphorically transmit information about the contemporary world in the form of postage stamps on their backs. Vladimir Kozin’s rubber fleas move around the walls, floor and ceilings unchecked, reminding us of their eternal connection to humanity. Contemporary painting has also changed its forms. One of these forms is turning to popular and mass-produced forms of art, such as posters. This traditional form of advertising was extremely popular in Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. The excellent artists o f the World of Art group worked in this new form. In their satirical posters connected with the First World War, artists (Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovsky) created folk-art pastiches. Representatives of the Russia n avant-garde (Alexander Rodchenko, the brothers Vladimir and Georgy Stenberg) and a large army of poster artists worked on propaganda in the Stalin era. And, of course, there are the contemporary designers, who put the spotlight on consumer goods using their creativity.

In some respects, Igor Baskakov is formally continuing the poster tradition. But at its heart, his work is closer to the works of artists of what is referred to as sotsart (Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid). Baskakov uses classic visual images from Soviet-era posters, combining them with global brands of shopping malls, magazines and television shows. Within this connection lies the artist’s relationship to contemporary Russia, where the Soviet legacy has yet to be completely replaced by international clichés. Baskakov’s irony lies in the fact that mass-produced quality of contemporary pop culture is being reproduced by him in oil painting, and in the fact that the Soviet legacy within it is connected with the foreign; that is, it is connected to the very thing that the Soviet government fought against for so long and so persistently . Photography and video art (Andrei Chezhin, Nikolai Kopeikin, Vika Ilyushkina, Julia Zastava, Tanya Akhmetgalieva, Maxim Svishchev) , which supplement this small exhibition, give us a small idea of what is happening in this sphere of creativity among contemporar y Russian artists .

The exhibition at Galerie Gmurzynska (Zug) symbolically continues the tradition of discovering new Russian names and phenomena characteristic for the Antonina Gmurzynska, the founder of the gallery, who gave a lot of attention to the Russian avant-garde, among other artists .

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