Visual arts


Visual arts
   Russia’s ongoing debates about its cultural heritage are especially evident in the realm of visual arts. Starting with Slavophiles, all Russian thinkers and artists were forced to place themselves on either the Western or Eastern front of the cultural divide. With the abolition of censorship and deregulation of cultural industries in the 1990s, Russian artists gained access to vast, previously unavailable art traditions of the world, while gaining an opportunity to display their works abroad. Once protected by Soviet cultural policies, artists—who had generally been loyal to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union—had to learn to survive in new market conditions.
   The 1990s were a transitional period when state art institutions lost their dominance in the field, and Russian artists began searching for their individual, depoliticized voices. The first decade of the new century witnessed a rise of private galleries and institutions, as well as a new generation of Russian artists who were simultaneously cognizant of global art tendencies and attentive to their local cultural milieu.
   If the 1980s were about dismantling the canon of socialist realism and staging art provocations, the 2000s have been about an unprecedented artistic diversity and the attempt to conceptualize what makes Russian art. In the same period, some artistic voices gained full power outside Russia. Artists such as Ilia Kabakov and art critics like Boris Groys emerged as leading authorities both in the West and in Russia. Like Russian film, Russian visual arts in the 1990s were focused on Moscow, though the cultural space outside the Russian capital has been embraced more recently.
   Russian visual arts of the period continued and adapted the overly grandiose Soviet tradition: with support of Moscow’s mayor, Yury Luzhkov, Zurab Tsereteli erected a number of controversial architectural pieces in the capital. Political activists have also found their voice in new works of art: the Blue Noses, a Siberian group, has produced a series of satirical anti-Kremlin, anti–global capitalism videos and paintings, and the St. Petersburg–based group Protez (Prosthesis) has been involved in political activism through their trash-art shows. Many Russian artists gained international fame and/ or notoriety; for example, Oleg Kulik became world famous thanks to his provocative live performances as a barking dog. Others are known to art specialists and a select group of art enthusiasts (e.g., Andrei Bakhurin’s flash animation).
   Russia’s contemporary art scene has been partially defined by the rediscovery of the artistic tradition (there were major retrospectives in Moscow’s central museums) and the revisiting of specific genres and media (in 2007–2009 the Moscow Center for Contemporary Art showed works of Russian video art). As regards classical art, the current period is characterized by the continuing dominance of Russia’s major art museums, such as the Hermitage and the Tretiakov Gallery. Russian contemporary artists have also obtained new state-supported and private venues, including Moscow’s Vinzavod (Wine Factory) gallery, among others.
   The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, established in 2005, has supported the resurgence of contemporary art in Russia, particularly through the Moscow Biennale. The ministry also runs an annual national art competition known as Innovatsiia (Innovation), which gives awards in the following categories: Best Work of Visual Art, Best Curatorial Project, Best “New Generation,” Best Regional Project, and Art Criticism.
   While Moscow remains the center of Russian cultural life, the contemporary art scene is developing in the provinces as well. In fact, a number of art and curatorial projects focused on artists outside the capital. For example, in 2007, the art project called “9000 Kilometers” (referring to the distance between Russia’s most western and eastern points) brought together artists and curators from Russian provincial cities along the axis stretching from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. The aim of the project was to demonstrate Russia’s cultural diversity and to create a sense of national belonging through art practices. In the same year, the art project ironically called “Nemoskva” (Not Moscow) was supposed to travel across Russia in a few train carriages, stopping in Russian provinces and engaging with the local cultural scene. The curators of the project attempted to reveal the tensions between Russia’s cultural center and periphery through a number of innovative curatorial and educational strategies.
   Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions have reported a surge of interest in Russian art since 2000; they have seen record sales of Russian art, often to Russian museums and oligarchs. Visual arts have recently emerged as a tool of political and financial speculation. Some Russian oligarchs took part in returning works of Russian art to the nation; others, like Roman Abramovich, made art-sales history by purchasing classical works for a Moscow art gallery run by his girlfriend. In 2009, the Russian government decided to change regulations in order to enable Russian banks and investment companies to invest in art.
   See also Vekselberg, Viktor.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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