At this low point in relationships between Russia and the West, it’s a good idea to remember how little we actually know about contemporary Russian art. By this I mean, first, about art made in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Second, about Russian art that doesn’t necessarily fall into some kind of ‘dissident’ category (though the Saatchi Gallery has recently done some stalwart work in publicising work of the supposedly dissident type). And third, about art that emanates from the Russian provinces, not from either Moscow or St Petersburg.
Gimranov’s show is entitled Khrushchev’s Thaw – The Housing I Loved
A new solo show by Ilgiz Gimranov at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Kensington High Street ticks all three of these boxes. By an artist based in Kazan, a city that has become mildly famous on the Web for hosting two different types of graffiti art – one the product of recklessly alt-right football fans, the other sedulously international – the exhibition expresses an unexpectedly fond nostalgia for the dear dead days when Khrushchev ruled Russia.
This, despite Khrushchev’s notorious outburst of rage in 1962, when he was confronted with some mildly avant-garde art works at the Manezh Gallery in Moscow. The show, however, wasn’t closed down, and attendances went up.
Gimranov’s show is entitled Khrushchev’s Thaw – The Housing I Loved. As the title suggests, its approach is one of affection for an epoch long gone. It doesn’t, however, as a catalogue introduction by Alexander Borovsky, chief curator of contemporary art at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg points out, attempt to conceal the fact that this attempt at mass housing turned out to be a failed dream. The housing stock of mass-produced apartment blocks created in Russia during the Khrushchev era is largely in pitiable state now. But the paintings, depicting this urban landscape, look back to the years of the artist’s youth and endow them with a nostalgic glow. They are not depictions of the here-and-now. All of this seems to me perfectly legitimate.
In British terms, one can compare these paintings to the industrial landscapes of L S Lowry, though the emotional atmosphere is a lot more cheerful than it usually is with Lowry.
Russian art, in terms of the categorisations imposed upon it here in the West, is currently classified in a number of limited and restrictive ways: Futurist (long dead and gone), Socialist Realist (also dead and gone), Expatriated (an exodus of artists after Communism fell), and Dissident (in conflict with the powers-that-be in today’s Russia).
It is good to be reminded that there must be more to contemporary Russian art than these crude simplifications allow
Russian Centre for Science and Culture (Rossotrudnichestvo) 1st floor, 37 Kensington High Street, London W8 5ED UK Until 13 April