Contemporary Russian Artists We Admire
Recent years have seen a boom in Russia’s contemporary art scene. In addition to renowned art institutions such as The Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Multimedia Art Museum or the Tretyakov Gallery, a contemporary art explosion is sweeping an entire country; with art galleries and workshops opening, street art moving into the spotlights and festivals like Moscow’s Biennale of Contemporary Art showcasing works by today’s finest artists, while Russian artists are showcased in an increasing number of institutions and exhibition spaces all around the world.
Starting with the nonconformist art of the 1960s, supported by the fertile ground of the Russian avant-garde of the 1910s and 1920s, to the zeitgeist of the past five years, Russian contemporary art continues to transform, evolve and fascinate.
We have gathered a list of nine contemporary Russian artists whose work reflects the diversity of social tendencies that constitute the underexplored Russian art scene. Scroll down and enjoy!
Featured images: Exhibition of Viktor Pivovarov at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, via oalexeyenko.com; Olga Chernysheva, On Duty, 2007 at Tate Modern, tate.org.uk; Anna Parkina at Regina Gallery; All images used for illustrative purposes only.
Irina Nakhova - Creating Immersive Experiences
An installation artist and painter, Irina Nakhova combines painting, sculpture, and new media to create interactive installations and environments that engage viewers as co-creators of conceptual mindscapes. As she explained herself, her biggest goal is to create spaces for different experiences, physical and intellectual, that otherwise do not exist.
She addresses the malleable nature of memory and history in her work by pursuing forgotten narratives of the past, that are often deeply personal for the artist.
In 2015, Nakhova became the first female artist to represent Russia in its pavilion at the Venice Biennial.
Featured images: Irina Nakhova, via dailymail.co.uk; Irina Nakhova at 56th Art Biennale in Venice, via ruspavilion.ru.
Maxim Kantor - Exploring Social Themes
A Russian painter, writer, essayist and art historian of an openly philosophical turn, Maxim Kantor creates paintings and graphic works that reflect his preoccupation with the actual problems of the modern global world. The major theme in his work is the analytical treatment of the condition of the Russian and Western society within the framework of the historical, genre and portrait images.
He portrays well-known politicians, religious figures and writers alongside common men, continuously included in contradictory processes. His art expresses an evident social trend that traces back to the tradition of the critical realism of the 19th century.
Featured images: Maxim Kantor, via research.nd.edu; Maxim Kantor – Mensa, 1984, via milanoarteexpo.com
Viktor Pivovarov - The Co-Founder of Moscow Conceptualism
Co-founder and one of the leading artists of the Moscow Conceptualist artistic movement of the 1970s that shaped the Russian underground art scene in the postwar years, Viktor Pivovarov reflected the complete ideologization of the Soviet lifestyle, simultaneously expressing criticism and nostalgia for it.
His genius is multifaceted; he worked as a painter, a book designer and illustrator, a theoretician, the inventor of conceptual albums, a memoirist and a writer. He works on thematically related conceptual cycles and series of pictures, many infused with autobiographical and Surrealistic elements, dreams, and Dadaist absurdity, imbued with irony and the self-irony of mystification.
Featured images: Viktor Pivovarov, via vltava.rozhlas.cz; Viktor Pivovarov – Wet Hair, 2005, via moscowphotos.com
Oleg Tselkov - Painting the Same Face
A Russian nonconformist artist, Oleg Tselkov is celebrated for his images of faces painted in bright color, depicting inner psychological patterns of violence in contemporary culture. He has been painting this same monstrous portrait for over a half a century, a face that emanates from the dark and sinister things lurking at the bottom of any man’s soul.
Releasing what is hidden in the conscious or even subconscious, this character turns out to be hateful and evil. Releasing monsters from his soul, the artists offers a medicinal remedy.
Featured image: Oleg Tselikov, via russianartandculture.com; Oleg Tselkov – The Last Supper, via huffingtonpost.com
Olga Chernysheva - A Keen Observer
The work of Olga Chernysheva spans film, photography, drawing and object-based mediums. In her practice, she draws on everyday moments and marginal spaces as a way of exploring the increasing fragmentation of master narratives in contemporary Russian culture.
A sensitive and perceptive observer and chronicler of the daily lives, her psychological approach is informed by both nineteenth-century Russian realism and Soviet avant-garde film. Moving fluidly between media, she offers an insight into the world of post-Soviet Russia.
Featured image: Olga Chernysheva, via artesmundi.com; Olga Chernysheva – Untitled (Figure About..), 2014, via galerievolkerdiehl.com
Semyon Faibisovich - Figurative Photorealist
One of the most striking representatives of figurative photorealism in Moscow, Semyon Faibisovich portrays banal episodes of everyday life that showcase the thick air of oppression in the USSR.
He depicted Soviet people in a myriad of occasions, such as state festivals, queues, railway stations or suburban trains. The artist found beauty in outrageous conditions, the mass of people and the aloofness of their look.
Featured image: Semyon Faibisovich, poramoralarte-exposito.blogspot.rs; Semyon Faibisovich – Waiting, 1989, via Wikimedia Commons
Ilya Kabakov - The Artist of Total Installations
Russian-born and American-based artist, Ilya Kabakov produced a wide range of paintings, drawings, installations, and theoretical texts. More recently, he has created installations that evoked the visual culture of the Soviet Union, though this theme has never been the exclusive focus of his work.
Today Kabakov is best known as a magician of “total installations”, a genre he first adopted in his Moscow studio in 1985 when he built The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment.
Featured images: Ilya Kabakov, via thenomadicjournal.com; Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s Ship of Tolerance, under sail on a lake in the Siwa Oasis, Egypt, 2005, via artnews.com
Anna Parkina - The Collagist
Examining the world in a state of flux, Russian artist Anna Parkina uses collage to critique current social, political and economic trends. In her work, she mixes photography, drawing and text and usually incorporates bold geometric forms and colors.
Her collages often reference film montage and industrial design and aesthetics associated with the early twentieth-century Soviet avant-garde. However, she has created a unique language of mass-culture motifs and abstractions drawn from her surrounding, reflecting the changes in the contemporary Russian society.
Featured image: Anna Parkina, via triennial.garagemca.org; Anna Parkina – Untitled, 2014, via Wikimedia Commons
Erik Bulatov - Working in the Realm of Political Art
One of the most important living artists from Russia, Erik Bulatov has created a unique, stringent pictorial system that he employs to analyze the interplay of contrasting symbolic systems such as language and images. He belongs to the first generation of Russian artists to create non-conformist art.
Using symbols of his cultural background, he is concerned with the emblems and typography of socialist glorification. Creating in the realm of political art, his political commentary subversively unites opposing impulses.
Featured image: Erik Bulatov, via themoscowtimes.com; Erik Bulatov – Picture La Gioconda, 2006, via Wikimedia Commons. All images used for illustrative purposes only.