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Federal State Cultural Institution The Russian Museum. Saint-Petersburg. 2009

«Art about Art»


On May 21, the «Art about Art» exhibition opens in the Marble Palace of the Russian Museum. The exposition consists of more than 150 pieces: prints, paintings, photography, installations and objects by such famous artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Ilya Kabakov, Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev and many others. The exhibition will continue until August 17, 2009. The «Art about Art» catalogue was published for the exhibition.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, images of art become grounds for creativity just like images of life or imagination have been before. It is impossible to do without borrowing and quoting from art history in the postmodernism era: this is one of the main tools of contemporary art. Artists relate to the whole experience of the world of art and culture in the range from diligent novice to provocative parody. Art becomes more and more self-addressing, and the subject of «art about art» is more and more relevant.

Curators who conceived the concept of the «Art about Art» exhibition made a conscious choice about a didactic approach in order to show the mechanisms of contemporary art in action. The exposition displays various artistic vehicles: analysis of composition and deconstruction; citation and appropriation, parody and descending intonation; self-elimination and self-description.

The structure of the exposition is theme-based and consists of sections: In a Museum; Art about Art: close-up; Forward to/Back to Classics; Russian School; Avant-garde forever; Iconography; Idea for Art: Attack of the Concepts; High/Low.

For the first time, the same exhibition space brought together such different artists like Andrey Mylnikov and Olga Tobreluts, Vassily Yakovlev and Alexander Kosolapov, Geliy Korzhev and Claudio Bravo; famous pop-art masters and very young artists. While sharpening contrasts and revealing paradoxical coincidences, the exposition shows the general causes and consequences of the processes in the contemporary art which seem to be very diverse at first glance.

Art always exists in the state of self-reflection upon its own system of values, its goals and means of expression and a concept. Such self-absorption and self-concentration have been displayed in different ways and have become both an engine and a brake. .

For example, why do artists constantly refer to the Repin’s classic canvas «Burlaks on the Volga»? In the «Russian School» section of the exhibition there are different answers to this question: a sculpture by Frank Williams and an object by Vadim Kozin. Another permanent creative stimulator for the Russian and world art is the Russian avant-garde art; the «Avant-garde forever» section proves it with the works by Leonid Sokov, Bratso Dmitrievich, Irina Zatulovskaya and Andrey Molodkin.

In the 20th century art was actively liberating itself from the simplistically understood functions of serving something and somebody; the growth of «self-awareness» of art was happening at that time. Ironically, the art in search of its identity was engaged with politics and ideology, and sometimes its service to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century gave way to its complete self-destruction - «art as ideological weapon». At the same time, the growing self-absorption of art was leading to the «art for the sake of art».

The «Iconography» section of the exhibition presents interpretations of famous canvases by Rembrandt, Giorgione, Goya, Velasquez, Monet and Ingres.

There was always a demand for self-analysis in art, but it is in our time that it became an urgent necessity. You can see both logic of inner development and reaction to the centuries‘s main tragedy – the loss of individual identity in serving «the great common cause». Self-analysis suggests revision, reconsideration of one’s own goals, means and tools for the sake of renewal, self-fulfillment of art and parting from fears and illnesses of the past.

The «High/Low» section presents samples of everlasting interest for legendary directions in 20th century art – Pop art, Sots art as well as images of grassroots, kitsch and marginal motives penetrating high art.

«Art about Art» is not only an eternal theme. It is becoming more and more relevant. We hope that the presentation of this theme at the exhibition will also be relevant. We would like to talk about the mechanisms of contemporary art, to show their very wheels, gears and transmission systems, their no-load and effective work.

What is the idea of art? The section «Idea for Art: Attack of the Concepts» with works by Yury Albert, Sergey Mironenko, Leonid Borisov, Yury Alexandrov is dedicated to this issue.

We cannot avoid eclectic approaches: it’s inevitable with such mixed material, especially post-modern material. The main thing we would like to preserve and display is admiration and somehow naive interest in the «mechanism” of a piece of art which makes it relevant. It is similar to the self-abandonment of a child dismantling his favorite toy. Doesn’t such excitement suit an exposition in a modern museum well?!