The Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art is now on and has taken over up to 50 exhibition spaces throughout the city. How can you not get lost amidst this artistic abundance? Here is a guide to some of the main shows.
Text by Roman Khripko
A good starting point is the project at the Garage Center of Contemporary Culture: “Against Exclusion” curated by Jean-Hubert Martin. It’s not only that it is the biggest show in the Biennale that makes it so important; the exhibition is extraordinary due to Martin’s own conception of what art is. The former director of the Pompidou Centre has indeed no exclusions when he chooses artwork for his shows. He is known for bringing non-Western and sometimes non-modern art to exhibitions where he hangs it alongside contemporary European works. Don’t miss the show where Martin mixes religious art (a no-no subject for European modern art) from Oceanic tribes with work from the best Western and Russian artists.
Garage Center of Contemporary Culture
19A Obraztsova Ulitsa
September 29 – October 10
Definitely the first thing to see after the main project. This famous exhibition curated by Marat Guelman has never before been shown in Moscow – only in Perm, which, thanks to Guelman, has become a Russian Bilbao. Russian Povera is a big collection of works of art created by a group of prominent contemporary Russian artists using cheap materials like cardboard and raw wood. The idea has been taken from the Italian Arte Povera – a significant art movement in Italy in the second part of the 20th century. Not a completely new idea, Russian Povera is a breath of fresh air in the Russian art-scene and is regarded by critics as one of its most important events at present.
Krasny Oktyabr Art Space
6/1 Bersenevskaya Naberezhnaya
September 29 – October 25
Tim Noble and Sue Webster at the Triumph Gallery
Paris was the world’s premier arts capital in the 19th century, with impressionism and post-impressionism being the most influential art movements of the time. New York was just such a capital in the 1950s. However, it is London that has had the most prominent art scene on earth since the 1980s. And just as the French had its impressionists, English has its YBAs – Young British Artists; most of whom have since become celebrities and are now in their forties. The most well-known of them – artists such as Damian Hirst and Tracey Emin – are now very rich and, in the opinion of the curator Jean-Hubert Martin for example, are no longer producing cuttingedge art. Today’s British vanguard art, which is called post-YBA, has finally come to Moscow, represented by two Shoreditch-based artists, Tim Noble and Sue Webster. They are actually a couple and since the 1990s have been creating together installations of rubbish found in and around London. The current exhibition’s centerpiece – “Scarlett”, 2006 – is a table with a pile of bouncing and vibrating doll parts. These plastic legs and heads are well sauced with blood. Other works are comprised of rubber masks of artists’ faces and a heap of rubbish lit so that it projects Tim and Sue’s silhouettes on the wall. The only video piece presented in this exhibition is Tim bathing in an aquarium in which he nearly drowned during filming, but luckily Sue rescued him. This art is definitely worth checking out, as these post-YBA’s may lead to something completely new in art and become as influential in the world art scene as post-impressionists once were in Paris.
All Sewn Up & Russian Breakfast in the Open Air
Perhaps while in Russia you have heard of chastushkas. If not, you are in for a pleasantly shocking linguistic surprise. It’s something very Russian, like Russian vodka, babushka and Pushkin. Just read out loud this chastushka, brilliantly translated into English by Maria Arendt:
Fish in thick tomato sauce
Floats in happy comatose
Only me, pathetic wimp
Have no f***ing place to swim
So you now know what a chastushka is – a philosophical short poem, basically a Russian haiku, but usually shamelessly obscene, except for bowdlerised children’s adaptations. Even though Jean-Hubert Martin says that a visitor, or even an art connoisseur, is not obligated to know the culture of the country an artwork is from, you may still want to understand it. Maria Arendt incorporates our chastushka heritage in her embroideries by writing in each piece only the first two lines of the four-line poem.
After you get to know about Russian folk poetry, you may want to learn more about what Russians eat. A follower of the famous 1960s Moscow conceptual artists Ilya Kabakov and Oscar Rabine – in the sense that they depicted everyday Soviet food – Maria’s sister Natasha Arendt is also a contributor to the Biennale; in her separate show she exhibits Soviet iconic food.
All Sewn Up
The State Literary Museum
28 Petrovka Ulitsa
Russian Breakfast in the Open Air
Museum of Architecture
5 Vozdvizhenka Ulitsa
September 25 – October 10
Three other places you shouldn’t miss include the video art of Oleg Kulik, an artist famous for barking as a dog in the 1990s and for being the curator of a great exhibition called I Believe during the last Moscow Biennale. Now he has on show at the TSUM Art Foundation a series of strange films that reproduce, or rather parody, a number of well-known Russian art works of the 80s and 90s – for example, a performance of Avdei Ter-Oganyan where he is chopping up orthodox icons. It’s a good place to absorb and learn about the whole history of Russian contemporary art in one fell swoop.
TSUM Art Foundation
2 Petrovka Ulitsa
September 25 – October 25
Baibakov Art Projects is setting up a solo show of Luc Tyumans – an influential Belgian contemporary painter.
If you want to go somewhere with the kids, I recommend the Mark Jenkins show of sculptures made of sticky tape, especially since it will be followed by a master class. Mark goes around the globe teaching the public how to go about creating proper street art. The date and time are yet to be fixed.
Winzavod Center of Contemporary Art
Bldg 1, 6 Fourth Syromyatnichesky Pereulok
October 12-20 (you need to check)