How Contemporary Is This Russian Art Collection On Display in Paris?

A recent donation “Kollektsia ! Contemporary Art in the USSR and Russia.1950-2000” to the Pompidou Centre by Vladimir Potanin one of the wealthiest Russian businessman backed by 20 other collectors and 19 artists amply fulfils its aim to deepen knowledge of Russian art by the French and international audience but it should be the first step towards more ambitious goals.

According to Nicolas Liucci-Goutnikov of the Musée National d’Art Moderne and the French curator of the exhibition, the idea of the show to take place in the wake of the 40th anniversary of Centre Pompidou in January 2017 was suggested to him by Olga Sviblova, Director of Multimedia Museum in Moscow who became show’s Russian curator.  The idea works  very well for both the French museum which added over 250 works by 61 artists to its collection of Russian art which already include Kandinsky, Goncharova and Larionov and for the Potanin Foundation which donated Malevich “Black Square” to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and other works to different Russian museums in the past, sponsored “When Russia Spoke French” exhibition in Paris and “Russia!” show in New York and has now expanded its philanthropic efforts on the European level.

The author of this article came close to this art after coming to England in 1991. Developing keen interest in post-war American and British art at first I turned to post-war Russian art partly because of nostalgia and partly of its seeming novelty. It resulted in producing a thesis on Soviet second avantgarde of 1960-70s at MPhil Art Course at Christies Education despite consternation of my tutors and in organising Russian art exhibitions in London in 2000s which allowed me to meet important artist of that generation like Vladimir Nemukhin, Viktor Pivovarov, Eduard Steinberg, Oscar Rabin, Francisco Infante and Igor Shelkovski whose works are included in the show.

The curators of Kollektsia did their best to include pivotal names of the Soviet unofficial art of 1960-80s and the first years of post-Soviet Russia but they have been limited by the scope of the collection having to omit the works of Vladimir Veisberg, Mikhail Shvartsman and the whole of Arefiev circle from St Petersburg.  However one does get a good feel of non-conformist, sots-art and conceptual tendencies in the Soviet underground art and in its art in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. The exhibition does also achieve another goal to evoke interest in the art of that period in a sophisticated spectator. 

This donation will position Centre Pompidou as one of the main European centres for Russian Post-war art outside Russia alongside with the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany leaving Tate Modern with its fledgeling Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee founded in 2012 far behind.

One would only wish that Centre Pompidou decision makers will not be confined to art of the late Soviet and immediate post-Soviet era represented at this show with its already well-deserved place in the history of Russian art of the 20s century but take another step forward and show contemporary art of the younger generation who started their creative careers in in 1990s and 2000s and are making the art scene of independent Russia now.

Words: Sergei Reviakin Photo: Via Twitter

The show opened 14 September and will continue till 27th March 2017.  

Vladimir Nemukhin, Composition, 1964, oil on canvas, 93 x 72 cm, Gift of Ruwim Besser

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