Whitehot Magazine

January 2008, The Peppers @ Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

Installation view, the Peppers, courtesy Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York

The Peppers
Charting the Soviet Union 1989-1991
Ludmila Skripkina & Oleg Petrenko
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts
31 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10013
January 5 - February 9, 2008

How telepathic it must have been for me, as an Eastern European whose grandfather was from Odessa like the Peppers, exhibiting handkerchief paintings at Blondie’s on Thompson Street in Soho during the late ‘80's. I had done a spread on the awesome, Alan Saret, a Post-Minimalist sculptor who was an influential part of the Soho alternative art scene in the late 1960's, and early 1970's for Barbara Rose’s great publication, The Journal of Art. His “Gang Drawing” can be seen at the Drawing Center Soho, 35 Wooster Street (through Feb. 7th). He had attended my opening. Disfigured facially by polio, he felt perplexed by the reference to one’s face and blowing one’s nose. He slighted me, making me feel like an amateur. I hobbled away and embarrased by my seeming stupid, destroyed my beloved handkerchief paintings. You can see what primal apes our older New York artists were towards the younger ones in those days. When I subsequently forgave him and asked him to marry me as I did to each and every one of them, he said I wouldn’t want to marry a sculptor who the New York Times art critics had deemed “making sculptures that looked like pubic hair.”
The Peppers must have had the same idea. There were nine clandestine and carefully done handkerchief paintings in the show. They were painted on old grandfather’s handkerchiefs, the grey, plaid ones that had strange, male textures. The paintings were acrylic and they had detailed motifs of KGB, nurses, bathing men, Hitler’s bread and mothers and children.
The Peppers were in their twenties when they first exhibited at Ronald Feldman Gallery in 1991. They were the youngest generation to grow up during Soviet times. This exhibition spans their work from 1989 through 1991.
During the late 1980's and early 1990's the Peppers exhibited their work at Gallery 210, the University of Missouri, Fundacion San German, Puerto Rico, the Pittsburg Center for the Arts, “After Perestroika: Kitchenmaids or Stateswomen, Perspectives of Conceptualism,” The Clocktower, 108 Leonard Street, New York, “Soviet Art,” Museo d’arte Contemporanea, Prato, Italy, “Between Spring and Summer: Soviet Conceptual Art in the Era of Late Communism,” Tacoma Art Museum and traveling to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, “The Green Show,” Exit Art, New York, “Moscow-Vienna-New York,” Wiener Festwochen, Vienna Austria and Avtozavodskaya Exhibition Hall, Moscow in their Annual show of Club of Avant-Gardists and “Perspectives of Conceptualism”.
Feldman has two very large and modern galleries. As you enter the exhibition you see an expose of what looks like compilations of fresh and plaster potato sculptures of actual size in groupings, some with strange Russian charts, done in enamel paint on masonite with enamelware lids and clip-on lights. For most of us who are non-Russian speaking we assume that this bespeaks their food shortages and boredom with eating potatoes. “See Article by B. Ravdin “History of an Ailment,” 1991, “See Article by V. Tupitsyn “Reflection on the Main Entrance,” 1991, See Article by A. Monastyrsky “The Wheel in the Head,” 1989, “See Article by B. Groys “Knowledge, Madness and Individuality,” 1989, all approximately 48 x 50 inches allude to their excitement about freedom of speech.
There are potato sculptures on pedestals and triangular pyramids made out of potato shapes, “Six Hanging Potato Vines,” 1991, plaster, enamel paint, wire. “Hitler Bread,” 1989 is a loaf of bread with a plastic head. “Gait of a Dog after Removal of the Cerebellum,” 1991 consists of 4 wicker baskets out of plaster and enamel paint. One suspects that the charts have something to do with potatoes too, but they turns out to be about “Bacteriological Investigation of Secretion from the Cervix and Other Afflicted Areas According to Baksht,” 1989, “Classification of Retrodeviation of the Uterus According to Elkin,” 1989, enamel paint on masonite, enamelware lids (48 ½ x 58 ½ inches). Another one called “Data Concerning Discharge as Related to the Degree of Vaginal Cleanliness According to Hermin” was done in 1989 and contains lids and a stool. This female reference reflects the more western art world’s equations of inhibitions concerning eugenics and the master race which obstructed the Americans and Europeans more than Soviet censorship.
“Correlation of Reading Literature Regarding Aesthetics to the Level of Education Received by Young Workers,” 1991 and “Comparison of Interest in Various Art Forms Exhibited by Young Workers with Differing Levels of Education,” 1991 have panels, 78 x 97 inches and plaster pea mounds. Komar was present at their art opening. He wore bright red John Lennon glasses and smiled a lot. Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid initiated the SOTS Art movement (the Soviet version of Western Pop Art). Their first international exhibition was at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, in 1976. Said to be notorious expatriates for their travesties against Stalinist Socialist Realism, they are the Russian art world’s founding fathers.


Claudia Schwalb

Schwalb graduated from Pratt Institute in 1974.  She was an emerging artist during the Minimalist movement in the 1970's.  She was raised in New York City during the Abstract Expressionist era. Claudia was the youngest artist ever to have a solo exhibition at The Clocktower/P.S.1 in 1977.  Claudia went on to write for Barbara Rose's Journal of Art and was one of the Contributing Editors of Cover/Arts New York along with John Yau and Judd Tully (Editor-at-Large for Arts & Auction).  She was Curator of the Knitting Factory and a television news transcriber for Peter Jennings' World News Tonight.  Subsequently, Claudia transcribed two movies, "Refuge" and "Interview with the Dalai Lama" which played at the Quad last year.  claudschwa@aol.com

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