Blackpaint 369 – Gaiety in Russia and the Master

Saatchi Gallery, Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union: New Art from Russia

Given the contents of the exhibition, the title may be taken as ironic; there’s some desperate gallows humour, but certainly no gaiety.  The reference to the Soviet Union is puzzling; this art is all post-Soviet, though the title comes from a speech made by Stalin in the 30s.

The stuff on show is pretty varied, so the usual sprint through with short description;

Sergei Vasiliev – huge b and w photos of heavily tattoo’ed convicts, for the most part looking surprisingly unthuggish and even tender – they have their arms around each other’s shoulders in some pictures.

Yelena Popova – “drained” looking images of shapes on unbleached linen; curves, leaf/sickle shapes, with similar curved blade shapes of plywood set around the framed pictures, shapes rather Ofili -like, I thought.

Vikinti Nilin – “Neighbours” – photos of men and women perched on window sills and balconies of shabby, decaying flats, overhanging concrete or shrubbery 4 or 5 stories below.  Like potential suicides of course, but mostly with calm, thoughtful expressions, looking straight at the camera.  On the floor of the gallery, a flat black PVC ” jumped” jumper.

Nika Neelova – A huge, blackened timber platform festooned with rope coils, that could only suggest a scaffold (or maybe a drilling platform – but no; “Scaffold”‘ is in the title).  Also “Principle of Surrender”, another charred wood scaffold, this one hung with bell-clappers – surrendered tongues or voices, presumably…

Janis Avotins – Dark canvases, with small, indistinct, ghost-like figures – one of them in a setting of forms that are maddeningly indistinct; where is she? an office, or an Underground station, or a street…can’t quite make it out.

Anna Parkina – Rodchenko – like collages, several electric guitars in them as well as cut-out strings of words.  A box-shaped sculpture, roughly carpentered out of ply or balsa wood, entitled “Thick Steam above the Wing of a Sparrow”.  There is a lot of interlacing of wooden tendrils, presumably representing coiling steam, and presumably done with a fretsaw (I’m no DIY-er).

The three most memorable artists – although not necessarily the best – were

Gosha Ostretsov – “Sex in the City”; a backdrop of cartoon characters in a skyscraper setting, with some sort of implied narrative involving concealed test tubes – containing a virus? – spattered and dribbled with paint; in the foreground, black, stylised heads, apparently made from a resin or vulcanised rubber and, again, spattered and streaked with brilliant paints of many colours.

“Criminal Government” – a line of wooden cells, occupied by figures in bloodstained suits and shirts, one hanged, others with arms sawn off and dangling from the wooden walls.  The heads of these figures stylised like those in “Sex”.

Vasily Koshliakov – Huge, grey, black and white paintings of city scenes, with paint sliding down them like rain on a windscreen; the effect is akin to the “crumbling” sensation in the German cityscapes done by Gerhard Richter.  Also, a painting of the Paris Opera done on a composite surface of layered brown cardboard, like torn-up cardboard boxes, stuck together, which is probably what it is.  Grandiose baroque building on cheap rubbish support – inevitably recalls Kiefer.

Boris Mikhailov – 100’s of photos of Kharkov “derelicts”, showing scabby bottoms, untreated hernias, diseased penises, broken teeth, wasted bodies and lots more.. it’s not clear whether Mikhailov suggested these poses to them, or whether they chose to display themselves in these ways.  I discussed it with another visitor and we decided the photos were disgusting and exploitative – but the exhibition guide says the pictures comprise “one of the most frank documents of the human condition in times of desperation”.

More Russian artists, and the other Saatchi exhibition (Soviet era art from Moscow, 60s – 80s) next time.

The Master

Saw this Paul Thomas Anderson film last week – it’s about a cult leader ( based partly on L. Ron Hubbard) and a strange, obsessive, alcoholic drifter who latches on to him.  the cult leader is Philip Seymour Hoffman, the drifter Joaquin Phoenix – so you can see by the names that it’s an” important” film.  it reminded me of There Will be Blood, and sure enough, same director.  He clearly likes obsessive megalomaniacs – as a subject, of course. It  looked fantastic, especially the boat and desert scenes; it felt very long, however, especially when Dodd (Hoffman) sang “Slow Boat to China” to Quell (Phoenix) .Unaccompanied.  I have two questions – were all those women really naked when Dodd sang “I’ll go no more a-roving” and what did Quell do with the motorbike?



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