Art: Gaiety Is The Most Outstanding Feature Of The Soviet Union

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January 27, 2013 by markstani


Six half-empty (and they’re most definitely half-empty, not half-full) pickle jars, their shrivelled contents swilling in cloudy formaldehyde, teeter on top of one another in the highlight of a fine show of Russian art – and certainly the best titled one for a long time – at the Saatchi Gallery (to May 5).
Dasha Fursey’s piece, ‘Boundary Post Of A Cat Bajun’, is thrillingly evocative of the post-perestroika era this broad exhibition seeks to represent: here, it is less of a thrilling post-War thaw than a stultifying gloop-gloop of draining hope and ambition.
Fursey’s work superbly evokes the grand and ultimately futile agricultural intentions of the Soviet regime in all its misplaced glory, its rich lacquer of propaganda long abandoned, left alone to fade and ferment, and yet doggedly preserved as if to gnaw at the progress of future generations. There is both a whiff of kitsch and a tang of genuine despair about her work, rendered all the more potent for its precipitousness.


Fursey’s is not the only work dangling on the edge: Vikenti Nilin’s [pictured] vertiginous series of shots of ordinary Russians dangling off the balconies of decaying Soviet tower blocks also cast a sharp beam on life in post-perestroika Russia. His subjects wear the kinds of unimpressed expressions that suggests they have long since been worn down to the point where they are almost ambivalent about their fate. Boris Mikhailov’s graphic series of photos of the homeless and destitute takes the pervading sense of hopelessness a stage further. It is both a challenging and moving testament to a complete societal breakdown which pursued the cruel mirage of change.
Other elements are less depressing: the epic cardboard architecture of Valery Koshlyakov; the flat-pack utilitarianism of Liudmila Konstantinova’s ‘Paintings For Holes’. Meanwhile, the upper galleries host ‘Breaking The Ice’, a Moscow art retrospective from 1960-1980s. In all, it’s a big, brash and intensely thought-provoking show.


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