The Centre Pompidou is showing an extraordinary donation of more than 250 works of Soviet and Russian contemporary art assembled through the outstanding efforts of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, and presented to the Musée National d’Art Moderne thanks to the generosity of the Foundation and the collectors, artists and their families. Taking place in 2016 among a series of events paying tribute to the role of donors, the exhibition highlights once again their crucial importance to the development of cultural heritage institutions. Without pretending to the exhaustive, this ensemble of works by major artists offers a panorama of some forty years of contemporary art in the USSR and then in Russia, covering the most important movements.
The exhibition will reveal the wealth and diversity of an art created outside official structures. In the late 1950s, stimulated by the exhibitions of art from abroad made possible by Khrushchev’s
thaw, non-conformist artists like Francisco Infante, Vladimir Yakovlev and Yuri Zlotnikov re-engaged with the aesthetic practices of the Russian modernist avant-gardes, source of inspiration for so many Western artists, and sought to invent their own formal language
In 1962, Khrushchev’s closure of the non-conformist room at the famous Moscow Manege exhibition signalled the exclusion from official exhibition spaces, for many years again, of any art that departed from the official doctrine of Socialist Realism, whose adoption in the 1930s had brought an end to Modernist experiment in the USSR.
The 1970s then saw the emergence of two major movements, their boundaries somewhat loosely defined. Moscow Conceptualism achieved a certain ascendancy with the work of Ilya Kabakov, Viktor Pivovarov and Rimma and Valery Gerlovin, then followed by Andrei Monastyrsky and Dmitri Prigov. According a leading role to language and working at the intersection of poetry, performance and visual art, these artists proposed, in the Moscow of the Brezhnevite stagnation, a conceptual art that reflected the primacy of literature in Russian culture. The first Conceptualists were joined in the late 1970s by a second generation that included the Mukhomor group, Yuri Albert, Mikhail Roshal, Viktor Skersis and Vadim Zakharov.
Alongside Moscow Conceptualism, the Sots Art invented by Komar and Melamid played in Pop fashion on the codes of Soviet propaganda. Unlike the Pop artists – confronted by a superabundance
of consumer goods – Alexander Kosolapov, Boris Orlov and Leonid Sokov sought to demythologise the ideological environment of Soviet society. A prolifically productive movement, a number of whose representatives would emigrate from the 1970s onward, Sots Art strongly influenced the aesthetics of the perestroika years, inspiring the work of numerous artists, among them Grisha Bruskin.
The advent of perestroika in the mid-1980s was marked by a real creative effervescence imbued by the underground culture sustained by a number of squats. An intoxicating sense of freedom informed the
work of the young artists of the day: Sergei Anufriev, Andreï Filippov, Yuri Leiderman, Pavel Pepperstein and the Pertsy group (“The Peppers”) in Moscow and Sergei Bugaev-Afrika, Oleg Kotelnikov, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe and Timur Novikov in Leningrad.
The end of the decade saw the legitimation of this art born on the margins. The mechanisms of a hitherto non-existent art market began to be set in place: in 1988, a first auction organised by Sotheby’s in Moscow gave a tangible value to unofficial art, and the boundary between official and unofficial abruptly disappeared. A new generation of artists appeared, among them AES+F, Dmitri Gutov, Valery Koshlyakov and Oleg Kulik. The 2000s saw contemporary art institutionalised and become an integral part of the national culture.
An unprecedented initiative developed in collaboration with the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, the significance of this project extends beyond the exhibition itself. A forceful expression of the Musée National d’Art Moderne’s on-going commitment, the works assembled here will join the permanent collection. There they will complement the key holdings of such modern artists as Kandinsky, Larionov and Goncharova, as well as a number of major contemporary works acquired since the 1980s thanks to the enthusiasm and engagement of the Centre Pompidou’s curators. This new holding will allow the Museum to communicate to a broad public, both in France and
abroad, a history too often believed to have come to an end in the late 1920s. As part of a resolutely international collection of contemporary art, these works from the USSR and Russia will enter into dialogue with art from all over the world, opening new horizons for study and research.
This significant addition to the contemporary collections will also see Paris-based Russian artists from the 1970s – such as Erik Bulatov, Igor Shelkovsky, Oscar Rabin, Eduard Steinberg and Vladimir Yankilevsky – granted the recognition they deserve.
The exhibition of these new acquisitions forms part of the programme of the Franco-Russian Year of Cultural Tourism, and will be accompanied by a series of talks and screenings running from September 2016 to January 2017.