Few things are more confusing to the aficionado of contemporary art than the simple question ‘What’s going on in Russia?’ A current show, entitled Drawing: No Limits, at Pushkin House, the Russian cultural centre in London, makes a valiant if not entirely successful to answer this question. Not entirely successful because it gives a chaotic impression of what can now be art in post-Soviet Russia. It turns out that almost anything can fit this description – any subject, any medium, any size, ranging from a giant monochrome fresco (Kirill Chelushkin), to a black cube engraved on white piano keys (Denis Shevchuk).
Much of what is on view refers back to the old Russian avant-garde of the years before Stalinist suppression, but does so using materials that suggest that this recovery of the spirit of avant-gardism may be ephemeral and temporary. Examples are the work of Yuri Avvakumov, founder of the Paper Architecture movement, with his cardboard models of Constructivist buildings, and Maria Arendt, who, in her series Fabrics of the City depicts similar buildings using fine but slightly wonky stitchery. Avvakumov’s Hermes’s Cardboard House, which offers twin skyscraper towers made of playing cards, dangling from a wire coat hanger, somehow defines the ironic spirit that seems to pervade the show.
At the present moment, as I know from a certain, if quite limited, amount of first hand experience, the Russian art scene is full of clamorous voices, in a state of habitual disagreement with one another. This show adds to the noise, but does, paradoxically, cast a little light on the matter – more so than most Western commentators, or for that matter, Russian critics and art historians living outside Russia, have so far been able to do, though it is now a quarter of a century since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
RUSSIAN CONTEMPORARY DRAWING. NO LIMITS Pushkin House, 5a Bloomsbury Square WC1A 9TA
Daily 2 pm to 5pm, until August 3rd
Words: Edward Lucie-Smith © Artlyst 2016 Photo: Left :Yuri Avvakumov Hermes’s Cardboard House- Right: Aljona Shapovalova. Illusions. 2013