The highlight of Russia's art calendar
this March was ArtMoscow, the city's new
international art fair, now in its second year.
Russian contemporary artists, ranging from
classic Conceptualists to brave young radicals,
were featured at the top galleries, which
include Aidan, Guelman, Obscuri Viri and XL.
Also present were art magazines, publishers
and invited foreign dealers, among them Ronald
Feldman Fine Arts from New York.
The Kokserek gallery was invited to
represent Kazakhstan. The day before
the opening, a group of Kazakh artists
revealed plans to perform a ritual
oblation in their booth. This news
caused some disturbance among exhibitors,
who called on Expo Park, the fair organizers,
to forbid the killing of an animal by the artists.
After some argument, the Kazakh artists agreed to
abandon their scheme, but insisted that a sheep
should remain in their booth as part of their
installation for the period of the fair, Mar. 3-8, 1997.
With everything settled, on Monday the fair
was successfully opened. At midday a German
staffer from Edition KunstKontakte came to
the Kokserek booth to play his clarinet for
the sheep and the viewers. And then, at around
3 p.m., without warning, the Kazakh artist Kanat
and his companions killed the sheep. It took only
a few seconds. In the next couple of minutes the
artists skinned the animal and cut off the sheep's
head, posting it in the booth. Kanat drank some of the animal's
still-warm blood. Others artists stapled the cloth spilt with
blood onto the wall, like a flag.
People began to gather, buzzing with anger.
The verbal melee that resulted had some German artists,
who sympathize with the Greens, as well as some Russian artists
and gallery-owners shouting violently at the Kazakh artists,
who tried to explain their blood bath with various references
to the Vienna actionism of Nitsch and his followers,
to the war in Chechnya and to the hypocrisy of meat-eaters.
I asked some of the exhibitors and artists for comments.
"I'm against performing [such things] in public exhibition space,"
said Aidan Salakhova, owner of Aidan Gallery. "An artist may do anything
with himself, but if that effects another creature, an animal,
then that's not art." The artist Sergei Shutov said that
"we still face the deep and unfortunately irreducible problem
of implementing a moral code for our art practice.
This is a recurrent error in basic ethics."
Not only bloody mess happens here. At the end of March
two different exhibitions opened dedicated to the work
of Ilya Kabakov -- who himself hasn't visited his "launch site"
for almost 10 years. Still, he's considered as a key figure of
contemporary art in Russia.
The first show, which opened Mar. 25, is organized by
Joseph Bakstein, Kabakov's old friend and loyal disciple,
who is director of the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Art.
The exhibition takes place at the ICA office and exhibition hall,
which curiously enough is Kabakov's original attic studio.
Titled "Ilya Kabakov: Album Graphics, 1971-1974," the exhibition
was made in strict accordance to the title: sheets from the
artist's album placed on white walls. Nothing more, just the
first solo show of work by Ilya Kabakov, at least since he went
to the West in 1989.
The second show, which opened at Red Art Gallery
(directed by Petr Plavinsky), in collaboration with
XL Gallery and Boris Belsky (a collector and director
of the Moscow Studio gallery), is much more interesting.
The showÕs title, "Taboo," in Russian is a play on words
for "stool," and also mocks Kabakov's "parental role" to
many Russian artists.
The artist's original "Stool" drawing, made in 1972,
is the exhibitionÕs central object. Since then Kabakov
has done dozens, if not hundreds, of stools, both drawings
and lithos. Also included are two "clones" -- a bigger
one, with some typical Kabakov's textual banality,
and a small color print that mocks a well-known but
weird Aeroflot ad, "Fly by Stools" (don't ask).
To emphasize the peculiarity of Kabakov's drawing
technique -- which thoroughly imitates typical
Soviet book illustration and blueprint handwriting
-- organizers included a "How to make a stool" pamphlet
made in the late Ô60s by some unknown technical student.
And the attic -- yes, again the attic -- where "Taboo"
is shown is much more alike the original Kabakov's attic
at the time when he worked there, gloomy, with bare-brick walls.
And by the way, we don't expect to see Kabakov himself
in Moscow. Both of the exhibitions were tributes, each
of its own kind.
The catalog includes a text by Milena Orlova, one of
Moscow's wittiest independent art critics, which I
append below to show that Kabakov isn't a complete
myth, even here at his abandoned home.
This exhibit opens up another page in
"Kabakoviana," the beloved epic of Moscow
artists. A couple of years ago the "Abandoned Photos"
exhibition by Vladimir Dubosarsky at Tryokhprudny Gallery
showed the same theme in the genre of "memorial museum."
Today we're presented something different; I'd define
it as some kind of TV commercial.
As in any regular ad here is certain "logo," short
and intriguing, which however says nothing about
the nature of advertised item but captures imagination.
Really, "Taboo" corresponds to the stool (taburetka)
the same way as "Diesel" to fashion wear, "Pampers"
to diapers and "Coke" to soda pop. Such change of
proper names to common names is rather typical;
as a result some banal stool becomes the one and
only Stool -- in capitals -- made by the real Artist
-- of course, in capitals.
The item's quality is unobtrusively certified
with numerous layouts and schemes that uncover
the technological process of stool-making.
Milk and honey with almonds and raisins --
how familiar -- and, sure, all natural,
cholesterol-free, no nitrates, no fakes!
And finally the last and most important point,
"a legal tradition," which is also absolutely OK.
The "Kabakoff" company is present at the world
market for 25 years, that's serious! Decorations
are an eyeful -- such Stools could be made only
at such Attics. The latter is quite significant,
for the vendor's original attic has been modified
by the present shareholders so much -- according
to modern fashion -- that decorations appear to
be more convincingly "historical."
As for the advertised product, any household
could hardly do without an old stool, so it's
noble nothingness could probably be the best
symbol of the Kabakov myth.
SERGE KHRIPOUN is the editor of
Moscow's in.sider art'zine and has
a Website at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/8070.