Klara Kemp-Welch: Several generations of Russian artists together in Venice

"Lost in Translation", at Ca' Foscari, is a delicious treat of a show that brings together several generations of Moscow Conceptualists with less well known contemporary artists. A vast grey, trembling woolly mammoth greets visitors in the courtyard,Russian Elephant by Iced Architects, 1997-2013. He faces Leonid Sokov’s masterpiece of kitsch, Meeting of Two Sculptures, 1989, with a short, dumpy-looking bronze Lenin, face to face with one of Giacometi’s rake-like uber-humans. Unlike some big Russian shows, “Lost in Translation” is relatively accessible to a non-Russian speaking audience—with generous translations, commentary, and a fully illustrated catalogue that offers a selection of definitions of important and less important, but equally useful, Russian terms. High on the wall in one corner, on a strange grey mount, a bread babushka peers down at us. She is made of a heap of bread loaves and rolls and a floral headscarf. Irina Korina’s embodiment of the Russian proverb, "bread is the head of everything", sits across from Sergei Leontiev's series of sharp, black and white glossy photographs of smiling, ruddy-faced people in fields and parking lots.

Sergei Leontiev, image from the Volga Faces series, 2001-2002

Also on show are everyday Soviet-era pleasures that hark back to life in the communal apartments, among others a crudely painted image by Victor Pivovarov of one neighbour visiting another, subtitled “Maria Maksimova, your kettle is boiling.” This typically deadpan humour is echoed throughout the show, its sinister side perhaps best captured by the strange and wonderful video installation, made in 2005, of the empty armchair from Lenin at Smolny, by the group Bluesoup. There is no Lenin in sight, just a black liquid seeping out from under the door to the next room, and smoke rising from the chair. Upstairs, this sinister minimal approach is camped up by one of the youngest artists in the show, Alisa Joffe, in her Etude of Christ’s Wounds, a large square white canvas with a pale pink gash in the middle that resembles a horizontally cut Lucio Fontana Cut. Igor Makarevich’s black square from 1989 with a carefully faded red slogan, "USSR: Stronghold of Peace", is just one of a series of powerful text-based works in the show. Another is Aleksander Kossolapov’s characteristically cheerful announcement that "The Crash of Capitalism is Inevitable", on a blue ground, with a copy of the Ford logo to lend weight to the statement. In short, the serious best and the enjoyable worst of Russian art crammed elegantly into a rewarding show by the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, successfully promoting Russian art internationally.

Klara Kemp-Welch is a researcher at the Courtauld Institute of Art

Published Mon, 03 Jun 2013 15:20:00 GMT

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