The exhibition that will open at the Tretyakov Gallery in February 2006 and the accompanying catalogue are dedicated to the anniversary of the Gallery. Organized as part of the "Inhabited Islands" art project, with Anna Namit as the project coordinator, it is a joint initiative of the Moscow government, the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications of Russia, the Tretyakov Gallery and the DaimlerChrysler AG, a company that has a long tradition of supporting art all over the world.
t presents the work of 15 artists: the painters Natalya Glebova, Nikolai Vatagin, Yekaterina Kornilova, Dmitry Krymov, Ivan Lubennikov, Victor Rusanov, Lev Tabenkin, Natalya Tolstaya and Tatiana Faidysh, and the sculptors Mikhail Dronov, Gennady Voronov, Valery Yepikhin, Anatoly Komelin, Victor Korneev and Yelena Surov- tseva. These are all major artists with international recognition who have a sharp and modern gift and unique personalities. They work in different styles, but are all of much the same age, born as they were in the 1950s. These artists started their creative work in the late 1970s and early 1980s and were logically meant to become the next generation after the so-called "semidesyatniks" (the generation of the 1970s) - effectively, the "vosmidesaytniks" (the generation of the 1980s). Events turned out very differently: perestroika, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakdown of the Soviet art world led to drastic changes in the life of Russian art.
The collapse of such established systems and norms, the perception of freedom as permissiveness when the impossible becomes possible, and the rejection of traditions and values gave rise to an incredible number of artistic and art-related displays and initiatives. The underground movement emerged from the "underground", and in doing so ended its existence.
The incriminating pathos of social art virtually dried up; the purely Western pop-art which ended in the 1980s suddenly reappeared as a Russian innovation at the 2005 exhibition in Moscow. Post-modernism acquired numerous conceptual groups.
It is no simple matter to reflect on what has been happening to Russian art for the last 20 years. Perhaps time is needed in order to look at our "today" from the outside.
Yet even today it is clear that the art of the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century is a huge layer of complex and controversial culture of the past century, and that all the possible variations of post-modernism are really just the visible and widely self-promoting tip of an iceberg which includes much more. Primarily this refers to professional art which didn't go anywhere, and which belongs to the world of Russian culture, which has preserved the plastic school and carries on its traditions.
The participants of the "Inhabited Islands" exhibition are well-known artists. Their names and their art have long been recognized in Russia, and even more so abroad. Yet this is the first time that the generation that didn't go down in history as the "vosmidesyatniki" decided to come together for a major show. In reality, though, the exhibit shows works created in the 2000s and not the 1980s. Thus, in its jubilee year in an attempt to analyze its 150 years of history the Tretyakov Gallery will present the modern, live and full-blooded art of today. And this will be a direct continuation of the traditions of Pavel Tretyakov, who supported contemporary artists, formed a priceless collection of their works, making a great impact on the development of Russian art not only of the second half of the 19th century but also of the next, 20th century.
There are, of course, more than 15 major artists of such quality in contemporary Russia - but this is no chance selection. They are figures who believe in the same ideals, respect one another, and are united by their loyalty to the plastic school, profession and a common social circle. Each of them is an individual - much like an island. 15 "islands" are already a kind of "archipelago", bringing together the artists who support humanity against the chaos of nihilism.
The theme of the Motherland, home and family is reflected in different manners in the work of each participant. Natalya Glebova, however, makes it her main theme. Her landscapes, rich in light and air, are filled with a grateful love for all things she sees, hears or feels.
Nikolai Vataguin's hand, his graphic plastic variations in two and three-dimensional space can be recognized anywhere. He paints "landscape portraits" of the Moscow he loves, and portraits of his loved ones moved by a need for deep communication with mankind. He takes wood and carves vivacious, expressive figures of Russian writers, uncovering the mystery hidden beneath the layer of their greatness.
The paintings of Yekaterina Kornilova are exquisite and multifarious in terms of style and approach to subjects and themes. They range from those with a tendency towards narrative and documentation, to those resembling visual solitaires of fanciful images and creating ornamental rhythms. Finally, there are those that clearly appeal to the old masters with their graphic variations.
The scenery designer Dmitry Krymov uses a complex technique in his works: a combination of painting, collage, assemblage and mirrors. His paintings dazzle the viewer with a feast of colours, an almost Byzantine radiance, the sparkle of textures and keen stage direction in the space of his pictures.
The unchanging characters of Ivan Lubennikov's paintings are people, with their collision with the restless modern world. He paints his characters close-up, registering their exterior and interior images in a far from indifferent careful manner as though inviting the viewer into a dialogue with them.
In recent years the artist has been increasingly addressing classical genres, moving towards wonderful "ordinary" still lifes, and very rarely to landscapes and the complicated, very personal genre of "nudes".
Victor Rusanov's paintings are filled with classical tradition and resemble stained-glass windows or mosaic panels.
They strike the viewer with their, pureness and musicality. Crimea, a source of inspiration for the artist, appears prominently in his works.
"An artist almost always resembles an explorer of new islands, continents, worlds and galaxies": thus, Lev Tabenkin determines his creed. He creates a world of his own, one that has nothing in common with ancient harmony and makes the images born from his contacts with reality visible: they look self-sufficient and convincingly alive.
Unlike other participants in the exhibition who work in figurative art Natalya Tolstaya and Tatiana Faidysh have long been addressing abstract forms. Tolstaya prefers simple plastic and compositional structures. She purposefully "geometrizes" space, creating laconic hieroglyphs of shapes: lines, points, stripes, circles, spirals, squares and crosses. The artist works in the collage technique as well using photographs, metal, fabrics and object parts. Her art is characterized by its artistic aestheticism, openness and accumulation of bright colours.
For Faidysh painting is a deeply personal, emotional, often dramatic state of the soul. It is a geometrically significant, horizontal, decorative surreal world that addresses not the mind but the inner feelings, the subconscious. Shape and colour come into conflict in the space of her canvases, which pulsate and live their own intense, bright and often tragic life.
The sculpture sector of the exhibition represents artists whose names hold leading positions in Moscow plastic art today. It is worth mentioning that in the recent decades that have been so restless for the art world sculpture did not only preserve the accomplishments of the generation of the 1970s, but also acquired new essential and plastic qualities, primarily in the works of the current 50-year-olds.
This has happened before: in times of difficulty, despite circumstances, sculpture, as a naturally positive and vital art, starts to actively develop.
Each encounter with the work of Victor Korneev brings a feeling of the absolute naturalness of its existence in space, the immaculate architectonics of its dimensions and inner harmony of meaning and shape. His art, acutely modern in its view of life, develops in the line of traditional plastic art and the theme of a nude female body. His images organically combine the archaic and atemporal with the motif of the instability and unsteadiness of existence so typical for the epoch. The compassionate heart-breaking note is born, in the artist's opinion, from "a nostalgia over a lost harmony of the primitive, over all things beautiful, kindness and the beauty of human relations".
The works of Anatoly Komelin stand apart from the others, yet nevertheless present an invaluable phenomenon of modern art. The transition from objects to conventional, abstract and laconic forms helps him to express simple, eternal things without the distraction of refinement: a flower, a tree, a landscape, two people, the Annunciation, Holy Women. The artist's favorite material is wood, and his main instrument - the axe. Perhaps this is due to the genetic memory of his hands, his solid craft.
Mikhail Dronov is one of the most important masters of modern sculpture. Fluent in the language of his form he creates his own artistic world, fanciful and multifarious. Assessing his work is no easy feat: full of irony and a sense of the grotesque, his works create a reality from phantasmagorias. Freely transforming nature and bringing its shape to a convincing sign they hide the depth of the artist's essence more than reveal it. The ciphered, polysemantic images of Dronov are plastic thoughts on life, history and himself.
"I make what I know, feel and understand," says Yelena Surovtseva. "The shape of the female body dominates my work. It expresses the inner state, the natural essence of the woman." The plasticity of the female body opens major opportunities for her.
The coloured wooden sculpture of Valery Yepikhin seems simple, ordinary and is recognized at first glance. He doesn't play the primitivist in his art; primitivism has its roots in the common peasant culture, in the traditions of wooden plastic art. "All the best subjects are around us: in our houses, families, in the street. I am afraid of the exotic, the complex and of excessive philosophizing," the artist admits. His images remind the viewer of a happy echo of childhood, life in the Russian provinces in the 1960s.
Gennady Voronov lived only until the age of 50. He had the kind of inherent knowledge, a natural feeling of the organic nature of material, of its existence, especially of wood, that simply can't be taught. How else can we account for the fact that his close friends call him the "mystery of the craft, a magic, wild talent"? Few works of the artist can be regarded as traditional sculpture. His thoroughly-done functional objects resemble "backward still-lifes," they are filled with feeling and the creative will of the artist. Voronov's works can't be reduced to any existing trend. He didn't need the verbal support of conceptualism, pop-art or any other invented scheme: he made every object he touched come alive.
Much like the exhibition "The 1960s Generation in the 1990s" held at the Tretyakov Gallery in 1993, "Inhabited Islands" could be called "The 1980s Generation in the 2000s". The exhibition "Inhabited Islands" suggests that we should judge them on the basis of 20 years of their work. Just imagine the potential of the artists who managed - in such a restless era - to avoid becoming a "lost" generation, not to succumb to the "spirit of the times" and assume the difficult mission of carrying on the traditions of Russian culture! What were they like in the 1980s? These artists came into art "on the shoulders" of the generations of the 1960s and 1970s.
They had fundamental professional schooling, were familiar with world culture, knew their way in the modern cultural life of Europe and America, and possessed an early gift, artistic talent, metaphoric images and - many of them - an amazing feeling of the approaching end of the century. More importantly, they never thought of leaving Russia: the experience of the 19th and 20th centuries showed that voluntary emigration inevitably leads to a separation from the cultural life of the native country.
Today the participants of the exhibition are a fully accomplished, actively working generation of leading artists of contemporary Russian art. It can only be hoped that "Inhabited Islands" will promote the self-determination of a whole cultural layer that constitutes the art of the end of the 20th century.
Bronze. H. 50 cm
Oil on galvanized steel. 135 by 190 cm
Oil on canvas. 130 by 150 cm
Painted wood, gilding. H. 25 cm, W. 43 cm
Stone. H. 35 cm
Marble. H. 130 cm
Granite. H. 330 cm
Oil on canvas, collage. 160 by 180 cm
Oil on canvas. 200 by 160 cm
Painted wood. H. 90 cm
Wood. H. 150 cm
Oil on canvas. 130 by 100 cm
Oil on canvas. 150 by 110 cm