Samara Wave

Period: 2000s–10s

In the twenty-first century, Samara has developed into one of the most active centres of Russian art life. Founded by Tsar Feodor I in 1586 and known as Kuibyshev between 1935 and 1991, the city on the River Volga is currently comparable to Moscow and St Petersburg in terms of the excitement and intensity of its artistic experiments and the ages of its participants. Besides exhibitions and festivals, Samara regularly hosts masterclasses and lectures, attracting young artists from all over Russia.

As in any other provincial city, the traditions of studio painting are still very strong in Samara and taught at the local school of art. In the regions, the influence of the art market is not so strong as in Moscow or St Petersburg, so there is less interest in the latest version of salon painting (glossy-media imitations). On the other hand, Samara is unlike other Russian towns in that it has its own avant-garde centre – an outstanding institute of architecture headed by progressive teachers.

Taken together, all of these factors have contributed to the appearance of a new painterly tendency in Samara, which might be likened to an avant-garde “graft” on the “stem” of an academic plant. This has already given us the New Rostov School of Painting – one of the most exciting phenomena in Russian art in the 1990s – whose influence can still be felt, even today (it is difficult to compare the achievements of the young artists from Samara with their counterparts from Rostov, following the loss of relevance of the Transavanguardia tradition, an original version of which was offered by the masters of Rostov).

The position of the new wave of artists from Samara is, in a certain sense, more complicated. Right now, there is no distinct universal tendency of contemporary art for them to adapt. Their quests – like the experiments of their colleagues from Moscow and St Petersburg – might be termed innovations in the formal language of artistic representation. They attempt to break away from figurative painting in the direction of abstraction, while regarding the latter as a phenomenon self-manifesting or emanating from modern urban reality. Therefore, the vector of their aesthetic passions can be described as “abstract realism” (paradoxical as this word combination might sound). This is a tendency that may well be a viable opponent of the aforementioned “glossy-media” style in contemporary painting.

By “realism” we refer, of course, not to the traditional genre painting of the nineteenth century, but to the exact opposite: the attempts of the artists to escape from the metaphorical and the illustrative, while not forgetting that the main element in a picture is the special painterly space created on the (usually, though not necessarily) rectangular plane. A typical feature of the Samara school is that this space is speculative, implying the presence of different layers or runs of the paint (Vladimir Logutov’s Verticals) or barrier tape (Svetlana Shuvayeva’s Mounting Tapes).

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