Field of Action. The Moscow Conceptual School in Context 1970s - 1980s
October 23 — December 19, 2010
The Ekaterina Cultural Foundation is set to acquaint viewers further with the most significant developments in Russian art with Field of Action. The Moscow Conceptual School in Context 1970s - 1980s, opened in the Foundation on October 22nd, 2010. The exhibition included over 300 pieces: works by prominent artists including Yuri Albert, Erik Bulatov, Andrei Filippov, Ilya Kabakov, Vitaly Komar, Andrei Monastyrsky, Nikolai Pantikov, Viktor Pivovarov, Sergei Volkov, Vadim Zakharov, and Konstantin Zvezdochetov, in addition to photographs and unique documentary materials.
Art, in spatial terms, has always been a field where various different forces act and practices intersect, a complicated stage on which dominant tendencies and marginal movements interact. This exhibition examined the "field of action" of one of the most significant and complicated periods of Russian culture in the latter half of the twentieth century – the development of the Moscow Conceptual School.
There is a sense in which conceptualism is the "theoretical peak" of twentieth-century art as a whole. By declaring the primacy of ideas, the movement's leaders stressed the intellectual over the aesthetic, frequently going so far as to reject their works' visuality. Its broader Russian manifestation was central to the art of the 1970s and 1980s, leaving a trace on essentially every development in unofficial art for several decades.
Exhibition curators Alexandra Danilova and Elena Kuprina-Lyakhovich set themselves the task of taking a defamiliarized look at events from this already bygone age, delineate the key vectorial forces in the artistic field, and outline the most significant phenomena in Moscow Conceptualist history. Or as the Conceptualists themselves would put it – to define the movement's text and context.
The exhibition was divided into two complimentary parts. The first was a "look from within," an immersion into the era's context based foremost on various different kinds of documentary materials – photographs of the artists and their studios, documentation of exhibitions (whether held officially or in apartments), and video recordings kept in private archives. Julia Ovchinnikova's movie, created by request of the Ekaterina Cultural Foundation specially for the project "Field of Action", was also demonstrated at the exhibition. The second, a "look from outside," was the distanced, defamiliarized investigation of an observer recording these events for posterity.
The context in which the Moscow Conceptual School originated was detailed in the exhibition's first section, Background. Searching for a Language. The curators took Vadim Zakharov and Georgy Kizevalter's Studio Visit albums, made in the early 1980s, as a basis for exploring the key figures from the period in which the "conceptualist circle" came together. Paintings by Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, Oskar Rabin, Yuri Sobolev, Vladimir Weisberg, and Anatoly Zverev, among many other leading artists from the late 1960s and early 1970s, were presented specifically as part of the documentary material. Equally interesting in this context were early works by 1970s artists – Valery Gerlovin, Vitaly Komar, Alexandra Kosolapov, and Leonid Sokov.
One could take the "Bulldozer Exhibition" of 1974 – the moment when unofficial culture took its first bold steps out from underground, gradually leading to its legalization – as the dividing line between the two periods. A new circle of Moscow artists who did not fit into the context of "legalized modernism" subsequently appeared – this was to be the Moscow Conceptual School. The curators had essentially abdicated chronological principle in favor of typology by identifying several key, sometimes formative artistic concepts from the period and designating the main practices that originated within the Moscow Conceptual School and continued to develop in conceptual artistic space over the following decades. One such practice was designated in this section of the exhibition as Space, uniting the work of Andrei Abramov, Erik Bulatov, Ivan Chuikov, Eduard Gorokhovsky, Ilya Kabakov, Viktor Pivovarov, Sergei Shablavin, and Oleg Vasiliev.'
The next section, Signs/Structures, reflected the Conceptualist practice characterized by its semiotic reading of the world, its search for different systems and structures, treating its surroundings as a text to be analyzed and interpreted. The visual minimalism of Rimma and Valery Gerlovin's or Andrei Monastyrsky's works, the ongoing series of actions by Collective Actions, and a marked interest in word, text, and statement gave rise to a whole cohort of works straddling boundaries of genre.
The exposition of the Surfaces section described the explorations of artists from multiple generations in whose work painting, though understood as an object, remained a relevant artistic system. The intellectual playfulness and interest in words, texts, and signs in works by Svetlana Kopystyanskaya, Sergei Volkov, Nadezhda Stolpovskaya, Alexander Yulikov and Andrei Roiter is combined with a textural richness, unrestrained brushstrokes, and diverse textures applied alongside one another.
Sots Art, the major artistic development in the early 1970s, and its later incarnations were dealt with in the Mythology section. Following its appearance in the work of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Sots Art spread relatively quickly to the work of Alexander Kosolapov, Rostislav Lebedev, Boris Orlov, and Leonid Sokov. However, the majority of them understood it as a plastic metaphor allowing for the unrestrained and playful manipulation of clich?d images rather than a purely conceptual device. This practice was likewise appropriated by artists from the following generation such as Maria Konstantinova, Andrei Filippov, Nikolai Kozlov, and Dmitry Vrubel, who saw work with mythologemes as part of a more complicated conceptual or postmodern game.
A separate section of the exhibition was dedicated to the era of the so-called "new wave," associated in Russia with the activity of the Mukhomor and C3 groups and the APTART gallery's community. Like their 1970s forebears, “new wave” artists explored "marginal" cultural strata in their work. Here, however, they brought a slapdash aesthetic into lofty intellectual circulation. This section featured works of artists including, among many others, Nikita Alexeev and Vadim Zakharov.
The new wave's vibrant diversity stimulated the development of various practices that broke into the limelight through performances and exhibitions. As overseas interest in perestroika and glasnost rose, Sotheby's decided to hold sales in Moscow that featured contemporary artists alongside work of the classical avant-garde. This auction was essentially the first occasion where the "worth" of obscure "unofficial art" was officially and legally stated – bypassing lay expectations several times over and, for the artists, marking the beginning of a whole new era Field of Action referred to as Epilogue. Happy Days. This final section is dedicated to the short period of liberated rapture and a sense that the dream of independent creativity was being realized.
Ekaterina and Vladimir Semenikhin, directors of the Ekaterina Cultural Foundation, commented on the eve of the exhibition:
"We feel the time has long come to give this significant, intricate, and ambiguous period in Russian art history the stature of a large exhibition. Our interest in the project known as Field of Action came from the possibility not just to present Moscow Conceptualism to the public as a significant development in art from the 1970s and 1980s, but to tell the story of that era's artistic life and the different movements in unofficial art of the time in visual form. Another significant factor in our choice of subject was that it gave us the possibility to show never-exhibited works from our collection in the Foundation’s space. A few works in the exhibition by artists such as Andrei Filippov, Vitaly Komar, Svetlana Kopystyanskaya, Irina Nakhova, Sergei Volkov, and Andrei Zakharov are being shown for the first time."
The bulk of the exhibition was made up of works from the collection of Ekaterina and Vladimir Semenikhin and the MANI Museum (Moscow Archive of New Art). State and private collections were also included. The exhibition encompassed works by Yuri Albert, Erik Bulatov, Ivan Chuikov, Collective Actions, Andrei Filippov, Ilya Kabakov, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Alexander Kosolapov, Yuri Leiderman, Vladimir Mironenko, Sergei Mironenko, Andrei Monastyrsky, Mukhomor, Boris Orlov, Viktor Pivovarov, Dmitry Prigov, Leonid Sokov, C3, Sergei Volkov, and Konstantin Zvezdochetov.