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by Alexander Borovsky, co-curator Director, Department of New Tendencies Russian State Museum
Frank Williams has been working in Moscow for three years. He is a very special man, who dared to substitute his stable and promising career as a Texas sculptor and curator for the status of a foreign participant in the Russian art process. Not just a viewer, but a participant. He could not, or possibly did not wish to join the exclusive and influential hierarchy of Russian pop-art officials, curators and artists, who, taken as a whole, and united by endless discussions of art project, control the art process itself. This was not only because of the language barrier pr the empty dialog of this hierarchy. It is rather explained by the fact that this Russian hierarchy tends to assess the present Russian art scene and its progress from the point of view of Western culture, and such an approach can hardly seem proper to a person from the West. In a word, only journalists would describe the situation in which Mr. Williams placed himself as a limitation: he fell in love with Russia, felt its pain and it problems, etc.
Why the does Frank Williams put up with this situation? For what purpose does he work in Russia? Indeed, it might be interest in the Russian dissipated life or possibly an American striving to overcome difficulties (unlike the Russian habit of creating difficulties to overcome them). It could also be a childish and naive American activism. In my opinion, however, the main reason is determined by the internal problem of Frank Williams’ artistic development.
He took his decisive step, having already acquired extensive and quite varied professional experience. He is a sculptor who is familiar not only with modern art technologies, but also with contemporary thought: Features of pop-art, hyper-realism, conceptual art and archaic modernism can be traced in his works. But it is not fair to speak about eclecticism as the basis for a post-modernist concrete works, capable of mobilizing any stylistic or technological techniques for the sake of solving a concrete problem. This in just what Chastikov does: the subject determines the technique.
Yet Frank Williams must have felt the necessity of passing from concrete techniques on to some general art strategy, and the situation in Russian must have seemed to him ideal in which to realize his idea. But why Russia? Let us give the answer more thought. It is difficult to startle a foreigner by democratization of art after he has dealt in pop-art. Nevertheless, the fact of this democratization in Russia is important. I do not mean the democratization of contemporary Russian art – heaven help us, but is it undergoing probably its most hermetic period. But democratization of the idea of art as an instrument of a social consciousness is still strong in Russia. This factor must be attractive for Mr. Williams, especially in the context of the stability and structured nature of art in American society.
There is also an age-old characteristic of literary centrism inherent in Russian fine art. This tendency for narration can be traced in American art as well. It is not implicit only in realistic art. It is characteristic even of assemblages by Kienholz. Still, modern American art can be sterile and regulated, and does not provide the opportunity for the telling of an utterly emotional and desperate story about man’s pains and grief as is traditional with Russians. Although not mandatory, this tendency still exists in modern Russian art. This opportunity for tight narrative has been felt by Mr. Williams in Russian life.
Art is hermetic, but life is open. Such is the street, living its own motley life; such are the actors playing the fool or the burlak pulling the rope the way they did it ages ago. This is all absolutely different from the American tradition. Here (unlike “over there”), everything is open and public, which is obviously of extreme importance to Frank Williams, is directly linked to what is called “the existential problematic”. This is what Mr. Williams senses in Russian material. Exploitation of this opportunity has become his strategy.
The exhibit in the Marble Palace of the Russian Museum is good evidence of what the artist has achieved and that which has always been central art, irrespective of market demand.