Moscow Conceptualism

Period: 1970s–1980s

Moscow Conceptualism is represented by the installations of Elena Yelagina and Igor Makarevich, the graphic art of Grisha Bruskin, the photography of Yury Leiderman and Ilya Kabakov’s classical Garden installation. The latter work reflects the essence of Conceptualism – the correlations of the visual image and the commentary and the loss of faith in painterly images and pure plastics.

Moscow Conceptualism continued to remain an influential phenomenon on the Russian art scene. The movement was important for such representatives of the second echelon of Conceptualism active in the 1980s as the Mukhomory and Medical Hermeneutics group and masters constructing their own relationship with it on the basis of dialogue and sometimes even rejection. To one extent or another, Sergei Bugayev (Africa), Olga Chernysheva, Vladimir Dubosarsky, Valery Koshlyakov, Giya Rigvava, Avdei Ter-Oganian and Andrei Popov all concentrated on reflecting issues of language, which has become a normative function of modern art. The Empire style, the classical engravings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, pompous Stalinist sculptures and the produce of Soviet glass factories are inter-converted in Valery Koshlyakov and Vladimir Dubosarsky’s On the Ruins of Totalitarian Utopia. The thorough interpretation of metaphysical series leads to a much-sought multi-layered image of Moscow as the Third Rome. The hermeneutic function also lies at the basis of Olga Chernysheva’s Black-and-White Book installation. The mutual penetration of the artistic languages of coffee-table books and cuisine – the classical Soviet Book on Tasty and Healthy Food of the 1940s – and the archaic social rituals of cooking food leads to a paradoxical interpretation of both Russian art and Russian life.

Part of postmodernist theory and critique – be it post-structuralism or deconstructivism, post-psychoanalysis or gender issues – the practice of actualising artistic languages of description makes Conceptualism a driving force in the reintegration of Russian art into the international modern art system. This is the great service of the movement, making Conceptualist an object of special interest. Many works by Russian artists now living and working in the West directly represent the integration process – Igor Sacharow-Ross, Grisha Bruskin and Georgy Puzenkov.

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