Klara Kemp-Welch: Pawel Althamer and Anatoly Osmolovsky's personal mythologies

A light-hearted but serious show in the pristinely refurbished Casa dei Tre Oci, on the banks of Giudecca, now rented for the third year consecutively by the Russian V-A-C Foundation. On a smaller scale than the blockbuster show there two years ago, Nicholas Cullinan has brought together just two artists – but he has make a great choice. Both enfants terribles of their generation in different ways, both born in the late 60s ,they were local 1990s icons who became international. Anatoly Osmolovsky’s early exploits, such as the iconic photographs of him sitting on the shoulders of a Mayakovski statue in Moscow, but also less well known documents, are viewable in a sleek treasure trove of a display cabinet with pull out drawers. Also, downstairs, there’sParys, a huge statue made out of rubbish, with an oversized penis, made by Pawel Althamer and his students and cast in bronze. Beside this, a room full of Osmolovsky’s more quietly irreverent jokes—some ugly black enamel Bugs, some punctured oversized metal Tickets to Heaven, and a chipped but flat white tile fixed to the middle of the wall to show how bumpy it is, by contrast. In both cases the lofty and the shoddy are combined in a characteristically post-Soviet way.

Anatoly Osmalovsky, Breads , on the wall

The upper floor is dominated by same-ish videos of Althamer experiencing different drugs in different locations—lsd, peyote, magic mushrooms, hashish, and giving us a running commentary on how he feels (when he feels like it). Not thrilling watching. You had to be there. But that is the point - a commentary on art as a substitute for experience itself and the spectator as armchair participant. Some weird shapes resembling giant pieces of toast are stuck to the walls of a rather lovely ornate room. These are Osmolovsky’s Breads. In the central room a series of busts of Marx, Lenin and others, and a stencilled statement on the post-Soviet condition from the Russian artist accompanied, at the other side of the room, by some rather formless bronze floor-bound sculptures he calls Remnants . If there is not much here to really believe in (what there is, is in the precious cabinet of documents downstairs), then there is certainly evidence of long-term searching for new meanings, in often unpropitious circumstances. And it is this that makes the collision of these two personal mythologies and the post-soviet worlds—Polish and Russian—they refer to, so compelling. Well worth visiting.

Klara Kemp-Welch is a researcher at the Courtauld Institute, London

Published Fri, 31 May 2013 17:11:00 GMT

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