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Oleg Kulik putting the finishing touches on his show at XL Gallery, Moscow


Oleg Kulik
Lolita 1
2000



Oleg Kulik
The Family of the Future 3
1997



Kulik performs Pavlov's Dog at Manifesta 1 in Rotterdam in 1996
Moscow Express
by Andrey Kovalev


The Russian artist Oleg Kulik is a guy who knows how to create an "event" -- he slaughtered a pig in the Regina Gallery in Moscow, he bit people while acting like a caged dog in Moscow, New York, Stockholm and Vienna. At the same time, Kulik is a serious artist who takes deliberate care with his final product. For instance, in his new show at XL Gallery, titled "Museum," everyone can easily recognize the figure of Anna Kournikova, the Russian tennis star (though her name is never mentioned, as we shiver with fear before American lawyers).

So this sculpture -- a kind of sportswoman's dummy in the shape of Kournikova -- turns out to be frighteningly lively, with beads of sweat on her forehead, a gum-baring grin, real sneakers covered with real sand and an uplifted skirt exposing mighty muscles. Enclosed in a glass box, the wax figure drifts above the floor in spite of the laws of gravity. Those interested in the mysteries of art as well as Anna's sexy thighs can discover that it is the beauty's natural braid attached to the ceiling that keeps the object aloft.

The combination of the wax's deathly shine and natural hair produces a shocking effect that is intensified as soon as one notices the taxidermic stitches covering the figure's hands, legs, neck and abdomen. Kulik's activities with wax figures began with a series of large photographs of his cynical sexual assault against Rasputin, Nicholas the Second and the whole of Russian history, as exhibited at the St. Petersburg affiliate of Mme. Tussaud's.

Though Kulik has not given up his old tactics of epatage and scandal, the wild '90s in Russia, when Kulik acted a mad dog, are now over. His history of aggressive actions is increasingly associated with a notion of "wild money in Russia being made basically by those who embrace violence as a lifestyle." The quotation belongs to Victor Tupitsyn, the Russian-born American critic and philosopher who supports Moscow conceptualists with Ilya Kabakov as their head and bitterly attacks those of the neo-NEP movement.

In truth, Kulik's achievements in the 1990s mirrored the Russian Capitalist revolution, and reflected step by step the intensive transformations of the new class's collective body. Oleg Kulik, the bad dog of young Russian capitalism, now concerns himself with legal decoration of offices and informational flows. There are rumors that Anna may be joined by several other figures, resembling Madonna, Bjork and the cosmonaut Gagarin, and the lot of them might somehow appear in the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

I can also add that Anna Kournikova, a simple Russian girl embodying the American dream, is not that great of a model. After all, Kourni has not yet won a single championship and her worldwide fame basically survives owing to cheap tabloids. For his part, Kulik, despite his nave belief in omnipotent mass media, hasn't yet succeeded in becoming a Damien Hirst-like superstar either.


ANDREY KOVALEV is a Russian art writer.