In the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian Avant-garde artists completely changed the course of art history. Revolutionary ideas of Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, Natalia Goncharova freed painting from the “shackles of academicism and realism”, forcing the world to perceive a painted picture not as an attempt to skilfully copy reality, but as a self-sufficient piece, like music. “Only when the habit of one’s consciousness to see in paintings bits of nature, Madonna’s and shameless nudes.. ..has disappeared, shall we see a pure painting composition. ” Malevich wrote in one of his manifestos around 1910 (from: Malevich, K. Black Square).
These and many other Avant-garde artists quickly became known all over the world, and their popularity is growing still today. However, after 1937, when the avant-garde in the USSR was banned by the communist government and cast into oblivion in favour of “social realism, understood by the soviet people”, inevitably global attention to Soviet artists vanished as well. Western collectors didn’t stop buying Russian art completely, for example “non-formists” were regarded with a keen interest, but due to circumstances this interest was nowhere near as significant.
Today not many contemporary Russian artists are known outside of Russia, but nevertheless, more and more initiatives emerge, both at the level of private galleries and curators, patrons and dealers, and at the level of museums, that help the Russian art scene develop.
One of such initiatives is a series of lectures by young Russian artists, conducted by the London Saatchi Gallery and initiated by the Hermitage Foundation (founded in the UK in 2003). The first meeting with an abstract artist Vlad Kulkov was held in the gallery in January 2019. Other featured artists include Asya Marakulina, Denis Patrakeev, Ivan Ivy and Yevgeny Granilshchikov, Andrey Kuzkin. The artists were chosen by the curator of the Hermitage 20/21 project, Dmitry Ozerkov. The purpose of these events is to help artists, well-known in Russia, find a new audience in the UK.
Asya Marakulina, ’A Room to Rest’ in the Centre of Urban Culture, Perm, 2018
There is a number of smaller, however not less important projects in London, contributing enormously to the popularisation of Russian contemporary art, that I’d like to introduce in this series of articles. I met several Russian galleries at the most recent London Art Fair, that took place in the end of January at London’s Business Design Centre. It was encouraging to see more and more Russian projects among participants (this year – 5 of 33 galleries from all over the world selected for the co-sponsored Art Projects program).
Shtager Gallery (Shtager Gallery / Elephant & Castle Experimental Space) moved to one of the world’s art capitals from the cultural capital of Russia, St. Petersburg, in 2017. Gallery founder Marina Stager has been working in arts since 2007 as a director and curator. The gallery works with famous Russian artists such as Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, Vitaly Pushnitsky, Oleg Matrekhin, Lyudmila Belova, introducing British public to their work.
Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, “Storming”, Street Art Museum, St Petersburg.
At the fair in London, the gallery presented a part of the “Storming” installation by the St Petersburg artist Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai. The installation consists of 43 plywood sculptures, painted by the artist by hand. The plywood figures – soldiers, sailors, naked women, wild animals – are all involved in a vigorous storming of an imaginative building – a “performance” on the border of reality and imagination.
This year Shishkin-Hokusai is representing Russia at the 58th Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art (May 11 to November 24, 2019.) with another installation – “Flemish School”. It will be a part of an exhibition dedicated to the Hermitage, created specially for the Russian Pavilion at the Biennale. The installation will comprise a series of paintings and moving plywood figures. The curator of the Russian exhibition pavilion, Semen Mikhailovsky, said that the artist had begun working on the installation, and it turned out to be a somewhat “rude, ironic thing”.
Katrine Levin Galleries – a gallery founded by Muscovite Catherine Levin, works with artists from Georgia and China. Catherine has traveled a lot since early childhood, and encouraged by her father, met artists everywhere she travelled. The wealth of cultural traditions, knowledge and skill of the artists struck the future gallery owner. After moving to London, Catherine started to show artists from these underrepresented in the West regions, organising exhibitions and public discussions. Now Catherine works with such artists as Levan Lagidze – one of the most famous contemporary Georgian artists, Mamuka Dideba, also an interesting artist from Tbilisi, Chen Li, Gao Xiang from China.
Mamuka Didebashvili, “Sommelier”, 2016, oil and glazing on linen canvas, 127 x 71cm, Katrine Levin Galleries
Narrative Projects is a contemporary art gallery presenting an international, cross-disciplinary programme in London with a particular focus on conceptual work. The gallery was founded in 2013 by Darya Kirsanova. Daria is an art historian and curator, engaged in the study of modern Iranian art, curating international art projects and exhibitions in Tehran and London, she writes for Frieze and Ibraaz. The gallery represents both young and established contemporary artists, including a Moscow artist, originally from Dagestan (living and working in Makhachkala), Taus Makhacheva. Makhacheva’s works are already well known throughout the world. In 2011, Makhacheva was a Kandinsky Prize finalist, in 2012 – the winner of the VII All-Russian Competition in the Field of Contemporary Visual Art INNOVATION, in the same year she participated in the Liverpool Biennale, in 2013 – in the Biennale in Sharjah and in the special program of the 55th Venice Biennale.
Taus Machacheva, Dear R., R., K., S., M., A., C., S., K., I., G., L., A., A., L., P., G., E., J., D., M., C., B., O., F., F., R., D., M., E., L., I., F., L., A., M., T., K., K., L., P., F., V., A., L., L.., 2018 Installation, mixed media, speakers, sound, Narrative Projects
The gallery that I curate, Abode, is a Russian-British project that also supports and promotes emerging and more established artists from different countries. The project is rather young – it was founded in 2017, but has already participated in several major events, including the START Art Fair exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery in London.
Abode at START Art Fair, 2018, Saatchi Gallery, London (featuring work by Maria Agureeva, Viktoria Ikonen)
The mission of the project is to provide artists who have achieved excellence in their mediums and genres with new opportunities on an international platform, and help them develop their creative practice and career.
Another important task is to attract as many people as possible to contemporary art and collecting. That is why Abode seeks to oversee truly exciting projects that appeal to a wide variety of audiences. At the London Art Fair, the gallery presented a joint project by Russian artist Maria Agureeva and British Lindsey Bull on the subject of objectification and self-design.
Anton Totibadze, Samurai-Classmates Meeting, 40 × 120 cm, tempera on canvas, 2017, Abode
The gallery works with artists such as Anton Totibadze – whose works are in collections around the world, including the Russian Museum; Maria Agureeva – a Moscow artist working in Los Angeles, winner of Ruinart Art Patronage Grtant, nominee of the Kandinsky Prize, participant in the Andrei Tarkovsky Festival “Zerkalo” (2013), winner of the special prize Arte Laguna (2018); Karl Bielik – artist from London, nominee of the John Moores Painting Prize (2016), The Contemporary British Painting Prize, The London Open and Beep Painting Prize; Lindsey Bull – an artist from Manchester, whose show “Undergrowth” in 2018 was included in 40 outstanding works of Contemporary British Painting.
AUROOM ART is a young gallery, founded in 2016 in Guilford. Auroom represents contemporary artists of Central Asia – whose works are filled with local flair, age-old traditions, but at the same time sharply modern, raising questions and problems that are relevant to every modern person. Auroom Art develops and expands the dialogue between East and West and focuses on four main areas of activity: exhibitions, training, residences and consultations.
Currently, Auroom Art represents a group of recognised artists from Kazakhstan. At the London Art Fair, the gallery presented a series of works under the general title “Battle for the Square”, created by Kazakhstan artist Said Atabekov, who draws attention to contemporary issues, such as nationalism, migration and capitalism.
Said Atabekov, BATTLE FOR THE SQUARE, c-print. Edition of 5, + 1 AP, Fine Art Photography, 198х132, 2014, Auroom Gallery
I am sure that with the development of the institute of contemporary art in Russia and the emergence of international projects promoting emerging Russian artists, we will soon see more and more Russian names in international ratings.
Today every person can take part in this process. The prices for works by emerging artists are quite affordable, and the work is becoming more accessible, with galleries, like Abode, having an online catalogue and offering international shipping. Of course, first of all you should fall in love what you are buying into your collection. But art is a unique asset also because the artist you chose becomes more and more prominent, your collection can considerably grow in value. And it will be more and more likely if more and more collectors systematically support their favourite artist and gallery.
Prepared by Anna Glinkina
Contemporary art curator and founder of Abode Gallery
Anna studied arts in Russia, Ireland and the UK, for more than 12 years worked in adverting, and started her career in art in 2013.
Abode is a Russian-British project, supporting and promoting emerging and established contemporary artists.
Tel +44 742 69 06189
Russian version of this article was published in RussianUK.com magazine