Bruce Sterling on Fri, 30 Jul 1999 09:36:25 -0700 (PDT)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Syndicate: Neo-Academists Have No Money and Need None!

How Nice to See the Neo-Akademists Pulling Down Some
Sympathetic English-Language Arts Coverage *8-)


                      FESTIVAL & ARTS SUPPLEMENT

                      'Ship of Artistic Fools' Sails On

                      St. Petersburg's newly born contemporary art scene has
evolved into an unselfish and passionate neoclassical avant-garde, bravely
exploring new fields. Gleb Yershov reports.

                      JUST 10 years ago in St. Petersburg, the words
"object," "installation" and "performance" - in an artistic context -
provoked only a perplexed, even irritated response. But today it is all
familiar territory: The city's contemporary art has its own institutions,
galleries, movements and even its own areas of influence.

                      If one was to sum up the evolution of art in this city
over the last decade, one might say that the late '80s and early '90s were
dedicated to "Neoxpressionism." A kind of humor and irony infected artists -
an indulgence in heroic but childlike passions, fraternization with rock
musicians, and an endless string of performances from "new" artists held in
their homes or in various clubs.

                      Now, in its place, we have a "new seriousness" - a
calmer, more conservative and businesslike attitude to art. The carnival
atmosphere of the past has given way to the grandeur and majesty of
"Neoacademism," to the cult of Petersburg's classicism and its restrained,
Apollonian beauty.

                      That "ship of artistic fools" once inhabiting a squat
at Pushkinskaya 10, once the most exotic and notorious artistic address in
St.Petersburg, has also been reborn. The artists have migrated to a newly
renovated part of the building, with a new entrance at 53 Liteiny Prospect,
a proud new sign saying "Municipal Cultural Center - Free Arts Foundation,"
and unnervingly clean walls - a far cry from the grimy and dilapidated
workshops and stairwells, covered in graffiti and mold, that used to be
their home.

                      They've been there a year now, and a few ironic
comments on their trendy, bourgeois Eurostandard lodgings haven't deterred
the Petersburg avant-garde from completing a fair few successful projects in
this short space of time.

                      Among them: the pioneering, "unofficial" Museum of
Nonconformist Art, and the New Academy Museum of Timur Novikov - St.
Petersburg's leading Neoacademic practitioner, now blind, but still probably
the city's most clear-sighted artist. The space also houses Gallery 103, the
"Amplitude" Humanitarian Studio, the Cyberfeminist Center, the Navicula
Artis gallery, and the recently opened Poligon gallery, a round-the-clock
workshop for young artists.

                      The August '98 economic crisis hasn't had much of an
effect on the city's level of artistic activity, since artists didn't have
any money in the first place, and weren't trying to earn any, either.
According to Andrei Khlobystin, editor of the newspaper Artistic Will
(Khudozhestvennaya Volya) and a man with an optimistic outlook on
contemporary art in this city, the situation here is far more attractive
than in, say, Paris.

                      Here, he says, things are more straightforward: People
are artists because they wouldn't be doing anything else; they work
unselfishly, passionately, and at their own risk.

                      Khlobystin, an art buff ever-responsive to what
happens around him, defines art as "an area of highly positive and frank
communication and interaction." In this respect, contemporary art in St.
Petersburg is a success, closely connected to numerous intellectual circles,
both artistic and scientific, and forming an unbreakable link between
Petersburg art and the written word.

                      Out of the many discussions of contemporary art -
marginal, nonprofessional, dilettantish and otherwise - arise thoughts of
establishing educational, enlightened academic institutes with a genuinely
original objective: the bringing together of representatives of
university-style academia and true "activists" from the world of
"alternative" art.

                      In this field, George Soros' Open Society Institute,
the Humanitarian College of Free Arts, the Russian Museum and various other
parties are all displaying an interest.

                      Furthermore, the St. Petersburg State University has
opened a Center of Contemporary Art as well as a museum dedicated to the
subject, and plans for the creation of courses and lecture programs on
20th-century art are taking shape.

                      New Classicism

                      The most prominent movement in St. Petersburg art
today is Neoacademism - or the new Russian classicism - which has had an
influence on more or less everybody. On the one hand, Neoacademism is a
conservative movement; on the other, it is Russian art's last radical
gesture of the 20th century, cutting through the modernist mud clogging up
the West.

                      Critics often accuse St. Petersburg Neoacademists of
lacking professionalism and the most basic artistic technique. But it would
be hard to make such accusations stick to those artists working primarily
with new techniques, using computer and video art and up-to-date printing
methods - artists such as Olga Tobreluts, Yegor Ostrov, Grigory Guryanov or
Andrei Ventslov, to name a few, whose work can be found in the galleries  of
Pushkinskaya 10.

                      The new Russian classicism is what sets St.Petersburg
apart from Moscow. The absence in this city of such post-Soviet monsters as
the academic Ilya Glazunov and Zurab Tsereteli, with their mania for the
gigantic, does not mean that there are no artists ready to stage expensive,
large-scale projects - something along the lines of Sergei Bugayev's exhibit
"The Subjugation of Space in the Soviet Union," which he hopes will be
Russia's entry at this year's Venice Biennial.

   Alexei Kostroma's "feathering" of the Bronze Horseman statue, and of the
cannons at the Peter and Paul Fortress, was created in the same vein, as was
his impressive interactive video installation "A Spiral of Penguins" in the
Marble Hall of the Russian Museum.

                      But there are other, foreign movements in St.
Petersburg as well. For example, the city's art scene as a whole been has
infected by the conceptualist virus that rules Moscow, and Neoacademism has
not escaped exposure. The conceptualist element in modern art troubles all
those artists trying their hand at the more academic tasks of designing
exhibits and mounting other projects, just as - in reverse - it troubles art
historians and critics, who are trying to become artists.

                      The artist Yury Alexandrov is a case in point. His
exhibition, "Without Gutenburg," was a presentation of handwritten notes,
address books, telephone directories, songbooks and soldiers' "albums" (a
sort of demobilization yearbook) dating back to the 1930s. This unique
collection turned the gallery into a reading room that was open for all of
three hours, and was, in essence, one big installation in which Alexandrov
presented himself as a conceptualist "arranger" of exhibits.

                      But the most topical and promising new current found
expression in the "Open City" project of Sergei Denisov, Alexander Skidan
and Kirill Shubalov. The idea was that the city itself, in its current
state, is the best artist of all: reckless, witty and resourceful.

                      Together with the poetry of the Neva, it creates
impromptu objects, installations, frescos, reliefs, abstractions, graffiti
... a series of aesthetic photographs that invite one to join the city in
creation. It was a light, springtime affair, a moment of delicate contact, a
set of thinly carved slices of a city familiar and open to everyone, but by
no means transparent or banal, a city seen through the warm, childlike eyes
of the artist.

                      And it is this vital look at the urban environment
that gives one hope that St. Petersburg, as Russia's cultural capital, will
continue to draw both the neoclassicists  and the most demanding modernists
experimenters, as it nears its 300th  anniversary.

------Syndicate mailinglist--------------------
 Syndicate network for media culture and media art
 information and archive:
 to unsubscribe, write to <>
 in the body of the msg: unsubscribe your@email.adress