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11 March 2015 | By Bazarov

'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

Some Thoughts on the Ballets Russes Abroad

16 December 2014 | By Isabel Stockholm

Last Orders for the Grand Duchy

11 December 2014 | By Bazarov

Rozanova and Malevich – Racing Towards Abstraction?

15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

Walter Spies, Moscow 1895 – Indonesia 1942

13 August 2014 | By Bazarov

The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

Shostakovich: A Russian Composer?

05 December 2013 | By Bazarov

Travelling with intourist

31 July 2013 | By Richard Barling

Thinking Pictures | Introduction - by Jane A. Sharp

15 November 2016 | By

Yuri Albert. Visual Culture Number 2: There is nothing to see in my works but my love for art, 1989, Enamel and wood on fibreboard

Below is an extract from Jane A. Sharp’s introductory essay for the catalogue for The Thinking Pictures exhibition. 

Yuri Albert: I didn’t mean that one shouldn’t look at any kind of art, but that one doesn’t need to look at mine—that is true.

Erik Bulatov: Well, I still feel that one must look. ...Art has always examined this problem of knowledge and unmediated sensation, that is— sight: I see or I know something about this. And it always resolved this debate in favor of sight, sensation, feeling. I think that conceptual art first resolves this problem by denying sensation. For me this is a decisive moment. And in my works I have always posed this question with purpose. All our Soviet life consisted in being shown one thing and knowing perfectly well that underneath this external surface something entirely different was hidden. Our life experience organically led us to this problem...

This exchange between artists of two distinct generations, each identified with the consolidation of conceptual art practices in Moscow, shows how their different motivations remain rooted in appraisals of the recent past. For Yuri Albert, the interpretive context is a familiar strain of conceptual practices, centered mainly in the Euro-American art world of the 1960s. For Erik Bulatov, claims made on behalf of painting and the visual-optical field throughout the Soviet period overwhelm Albert’s context— but not in the way an outside viewer might expect. Only those “inhabitants of the Russian empire” well versed in what Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid once described as “the Aesopian language of Soviet culture” might be expected to parse the contradictions masked by a superficial rhetoric of appearances, but which also—paradoxically—are revealed to us through the surface of the painting. Albert initiates the exchange, demonstrating in this interview, as he does in many of the others he published as a catalogue accompanying his 2014 exhibition on the subject, that Moscow Conceptualism— the beginning—opens on to many others. These reflections expose facets of history missed in scholarly articles and textbooks and are located instead in recollected speech, personal interaction, and archives. In this effort, Albert shares the stage with notable others: Vadim Zakharov with his journal Pastor (and his video archive), German Titov, and Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie with their documentary publications, to name just a few.

Albert’s interviews and the art they frame remind us of conceptual art’s double reception: in Russia—a history that begins in the late 1960s or early 1970s—and in the West, beginning with the emigration of key artists including, most prominently, Komar and Melamid in 1977. This distinction has bearing on how Moscow Conceptualism is presented and viewed internationally. The June 2015 opening of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow seemed to confirm the global and cosmopolitan reach of contemporary art—and the central place given to conceptual practices in art history. Such events integrate diverse communities of viewers wherever they take place, whether in Moscow or at biennial exhibitions in Istanbul, Venice, and Shanghai. In these prestigious large-scale venues, we take note of returns to commitments once thought lost or irrelevant (abstraction) and the survival of painting itself. Especially significant for the reception of Russian art abroad are the diverse practices that have perhaps always complicated interpretation of art regarded as “conceptual.”

Yet opportunities to deeply engage with this international visual culture remain rare for most local communities—even for viewers in major art capitals, such as New York or London, rarer still for those in Shanghai and Moscow. In their presentation of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Tomorrow Is the Question, the curators at the Garage Museum joined archives and documentation on Moscow’s eventful unofficial art world with a contemporary spectacle in their attempt to make sense of the gap between the experience of art as shared entertainment product and historically focused, ethical act.

And so, a visitor to the Zimmerli Art Museum’s presentation of conceptual art created in Moscow during the last decades of Soviet rule (the 1970s and ’80s) might be surprised to find that paintings of extraordinary finish, by Bulatov, Komar and Melamid, and others, count as conceptual art—and have for decades. That visitor probably would not be aware of the definitive survey of the movement, the artist Yuri Albert’s exhibition, which sought to identify the movement’s beginnings and scope and included many of the works featured here; it took place just two years ago in Nizhnii Novgorod. Nor would your average Russian viewer likely be aware that the scholar who penned the influential essay “Moscow Romantic Conceptualism,” Boris Groys, had curated an ambitious survey a few years before in Frankfurt, Germany, which also counted on classical forms of visual art to carry the specific values attached to the movement— even its purported logocentrism.

The Thinking Pictures exhibition runs from 6 September - 31 December, 2016, in the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. The accompanying catalogue, from which this extract has been taken, is available for purchase from 21 November, 2016.