"The Best Art In The World"
By LUISA CALDWELL, October 2019
The contemporary art scene in St. Petersburg is thriving and runs the gamut from DIY funky artists run spaces to slick money filled galleries. It’s a European flavored city, with a hint of Soviet era throwback, but the art is current and relevant and holds up on an international basis (said like a New Yorker). Because of the language barrier and not all press releases were available in English, I refreshingly just let the work speak for itself. A brief recap of some worthy exhibitions:
Elena Yanshina @ FFTN
FFTN is an artists run space and measures exactly 4 square meters. It’s situated at the top of four flights of stairs in a dilapidated residential building. There I saw an installation by Elena Yanshina, who presented drawings and pages from her graphic novel called Platonic Philosophy. It’s a sci-fi fantasy about dolphins coming to the rescue of humankind. I say whatever it takes! Yanshina is a young artist on her way to study art in Lyon France, her work engages with he current climate crisis in a relevant manner.
Liza Bobkova @ Myth
This exhibition, while in a chicly renovated beaux-art building, I found problematic. The concept is derived from letters from never met before facebook friends. Upon entry there is a large wall mural of drawn numbers in black. It is minimalist and elegant and worked well. The next room offered cut out silhouettes in brass sheet metal of objects, some quite charming. But the exhibition digressed to weak watercolors and velour fabric creatures. From this digression the show disintegrated into what I would have guessed to be a group show.
North 7 & Petr Shvetsov @ Anna Nova
North 7 is a collective that I have been told do large, messy installations drawing from traditional craft and folkloric tales and much more, as I said it is messy. Though in this high end gallery (controversy surrounds it as the gallerists husband is a mega developer) the work was presented as a clearly defined group show entitled Summer Camp. Upon entering the gallery there is a large structureless painting of the worst sort dominating the space, I then learned that it was made during the opening by whoever wanted to help make it. Touché. A prankster intervention of a ping pong table almost completely blocked access to the second gallery. These seemed to be the most collaborated works. Highlights include a video of a marionette like structure of small pieces of cut branches joined by threading through a bored hole. The video shows the structure collapsing then standing, collapsing then standing, and so on. It’s fun to watch the variations of how it topples then erects itself. A cheeky sculpture of a cast hand holding a banana poised on a ball is beautiful and funny. A tableau vivant like presentation of ragged clothing is installed well. There is much good work in this show. And in the spirit of collectivity the individual is not named.
At Anna Nova there is a permanent installation by Petr Shvetsov in the bathroom. It drips thick black paint on pristine white tile. It’s kind of the last thing you want to see when you walk into a bathroom. A makeshift chandelier the crystals dabbed in paint as well and some miniature random seeming vignettes add to the environment. It’s elegant and humorous, especially that the artists signed the work near the toilet paper holder.
Vadim Mikailov @ Kunsthalle Nummer Sieben
Kunsthalle Nummer Sieben is a space run by the North 7 collective in a concrete basement space with several windowless cavelike rooms. Currently showing is one of North 7 own, Vadim Mikhailov. One enters to an open frame dacha (summer cottage) like structure with live plants, seating, a kind of hangout. Each room creates an environment. The most effective are the rooms where objects with a funnel like extensions coming from the ceiling and parasitically attaching itself to the object (chair, microwave, statue). I recognized from Anna Nova exhibition paintings on clothing. As canvases jean jackets and sweat shirts work well, especially with the scratchy raw line quality.
AES+F @ Central Exhibition Hall Manege, St Petersburg, Russia
AES+F is a Russia art collective specializing in epic scale digital videos of dystopian societies, first brought to international attention at the Venice Biennale in 2007. Their narratives draw on sources from classical monumental painting to predicting future societies filled with harmless yet biologically mutated creatures. The videos are truly captivating, they are slow moving and as beautiful as they are strange and induce a rather SOMA like effect. The recognizable actors constantly change through costuming, a brown skinned man goes from being a cop to business man to pedestrian. It’s the continual change in defining archetypes that sustains the work. What doesn’t work as well is their straight sculptures of giant baby dolls with batwings and the still photography that just looks plain photoshopped and cold. A large Bedouin tent printed with vivid Islamic patterning houses printed tapestries, composites of existing world city scapes dominated by Islamic monuments.
Peter Beyli @ Marina Gisich
Asya Marakulina @ Marina Gisich
I caught two shows at Marina Gisich Gallery, one closing and a few days later one opening.
Peter Beyli showed minimalist, tactile sculptures dealing with voids and holes, labor and building practices. A draped wall sculpture made from sheet rubber had holes burned contradicting its beauty. Holes were also burned into large white sheets of paper, juxtaposed with stacked mattresses that invite the viewer to sit or lay down. These mattresses I learned are marketed to temporary workers with options named Laborer, Manager or Executive in respective comfort levels. The show is aptly titled “Layer”.
Asya Marakulina in “Iron Overtones” begins with small watercolors, scenarios of invented rectilinear structures with objects and clothing. This imagery is then realized into a sculpture of welded bar stock and soft sculptures, with dresses named Entryway, Straight-A Student, and Girlfriends. Drawing from childhood and a nostalgia of things past, the sculptures work well at presenting a tension between past and present, hard and soft, and according to the artist like most relationships. Crisp, clean and a little meet cute, the show is successfully focused and open ended at the same time.
Alexandra Lerman @ The Museum of Hygiene
I caught the opening at The Museum of Hygiene in a city wide exhibition presenting new art in old places. Alexandra Lerman shows a video The Return of The Return of The Giant Hogweed warning of the dangers of this invasive species using the Genesis song by the same name as soundtrack. Lerman also presents large scale cyanotypes layering plant silhouettes with digital gadgets, making a link to the British botanist and the first female photographer Anna Atkins. An amusing and standout piece is a cyanotype of the artists as part dog positioned next to the original taxidermy of Pavlov’s Dog. Imagine my surprise!
Postscript: Some of the most rewarding time was spent visiting artists in studios that are provided by the state through the Union of Artists program. These studios are usually the undesirable top floor, but unique artists worlds are created up there. Petr Shvetsov (of Anna Nova bathroom installation) in his 7th floor Mansard walk up has a strong multidisciplinary practice encompassing sculpture, performance and installation but painting is truly at the heart of his work. Zhenya Machneva is a textile artist making large loom woven tapestries of industrial landscapes and machine systems. Labor intensive and beautifully executed, I later learned her work was in The New Museum Triennial in New York City in 2018. WM
Luisa Caldwell is an artist working and living between NYC and Italy. Known for large scale public art works, with recent installations at Hancher Auditorium at University of Iowa using 17,000 found and collected candy wrappers. Permanent projects include commissions from NYC Percent for Art and NYC MTA Art& Design. Autumn of 2019 Caldwell has residencies through CEC Back Apartment Residency in St. Petersburg, Russia and Guild House at Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY.view all articles from this author