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Rebellious spirit of Russian art in London

Elena Monakhova

            A comprehensive display of one of the most important phenomena in Russian art of the second half of the 20th century comes to London. The Calvert 22 Foundation presents the UKs first major survey of the highly-influential Moscow Conceptual School.

            Field of Action: the Moscow Conceptualist School in Context is a tribute to a group of artists who were striving to find their individual artistic style amid tight restrictions placed on art by the Soviet regime.

            In the 1970s and 80s, art which did not conform to officially-sanctioned social realism was denounced and harshly rejected. But this just provided a stimulus and field of action for the Moscow Conceptualists who were turning to various sources of inspiration and working across a wide range of media in pursuit of their artistic freedom.

            They gathered informally in private apartments and studios to display works which could not be seen elsewhere. The movements communal character enabled the exhibitions curators to scrutinize not only the artworks themselves, but also the context of the Moscow Conceptual School. Over 100 works are on display, spanning paintings, sculptures, installations, works on paper, video projections and documentary materials, giving a unique insight into art which was considered rebellious and trail-blazing compared with official Soviet propaganda art, and showing the multi-faceted nature of Moscow conceptualism.

            United by their commitment to artistic experimentation and avant-garde activity, the Moscow Conceptualists were drawn to completely different styles and art forms. Bold paintings by Erick Bulatov, sensational installations by Ilya Kabakov, and daring performances by the Collective Actions Group invited viewers to focus on the intellectual rather than the aesthetic aspects of art, as well as to get actively involved in the process of interpretation of artworks.

            The display comes to London amid growing international interest in unofficial Soviet art: Russian art is making a strong showing at major auction houses, and an installation made by Andrey Monastyrsky, the Moscow Conceptualists key artist, is to represent Russia at the 54th Art Biennale in Venice.

            Field of Action: the Moscow Conceptualist School in Context is a special adaptation of the original exhibition presented by the Ekaterina Cultural Foundation in Moscow at the end of 2010, and will be on view at Londons Calvert 22 through August 28.