Specters of Communism: Contemporary Russian Art


Feb. 11, 2024 - Mar. 28, 2015

311 East Broadway
New York, New York 10002


February 7–March 28, 2015 at The James Gallery
February 11–March 28, 2015 at e-flux

Opening at The James Gallery: Friday, February 6, 6–8pm

Opening at e-flux: Tuesday, February 10, 6–8pm
8pm: Anton Vidokle, The Communist Revolution Was Caused By The Sun

Symposium: Monday February 9, 2–6pm
The James Gallery, The Graduate Center, CUNY

The James Gallery, The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Hours: Tuesday–Thursday noon–7pm,
Friday–Saturday noon–6pm

311 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday noon–6pm

Artists: Alina and Jeff Bliumis, Chto delat?, Keti Chukhrov, Anton Ginzburg, Pussy Riot, Anton Vidokle, Arseny Zhilyaev

Curated by Boris Groys

Contemporary Russian artists are still haunted by the specters of communism. On the one hand, they do not want to close the utopian perspective that was opened by the October revolution and art of the Russian avant-garde. But, on the other hand, they cannot forget the long history of post-revolutionary violence, where artists are haunted by these specters in the middle of reality that does not welcome them.

In contemporary Russia in which the official political and cultural attitudes become increasingly conservative, a new generation of Russian artists continue the tradition of the Russian artistic and political Left: desire to change the reality by means of art, ideals of equality and social justice, radical Utopianism, secularism and internationalism. This exhibition includes the works of artists from Moscow and St. Petersburg who share a critical attitude towards the realities of contemporary Russian life.

Pussy Riot address the power of the Church and its complicity with the state. The group’s famous “Punk Prayer” brought two of its members into prison. The videos of Chto delat? thematize the cultural and political issues with which the Left is confronted in the contemporary world. Arseny Zhilyaev supplies an ironical commentary to the contemporary Russian media space in which the sensational news about UFOs and meteorites circulate together with Putin’s quasi-artistic actions, like kissing the tiger and finding the antique amphorae at the bottom of the sea. And in her poetic and poignant video Keti Chukhrov shows the gap between the intellectual attitudes of the Russian leftist activists and their real social behavior.

The exhibition includes the works of New York artists of Russian origin who also deal with the heritage of Russian communism. Anton Vidokle rediscovers in his works the radical Utopian projects of the Russian political and artistic avant-garde aiming at creating the world in which men become immortal and at the same time re-united with cosmic life. Anton Ginzburg finds the traces of the gigantic “earthworks” of the Soviet time. And Alina and Jeff Bliumis nostalgically try to reestablish the direct contact with the audience that was lost by art under the conditions of the art market.

Alina and Jeff Bliumis are New York-based artists whose work concerns the politics of community, cultural displacement, migration and national identity. Jeff (born Kishinev, Moldova) and Alina (born Minsk, Belarus) began their collaboration in 2000. The artists’ 2014 New York solo shows include Thank You Paintings Exchange at Denny Gallery and Casual Conversations at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery. Their work has previously exhibited internationally at venues including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Centre d’art Contemporain in Meymac, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Keti Chukhrov is Russian born Associate Professor at the Russian State University for Humanities. She is the author of Pound & £ (Logos: 1999) and Just Humans (Translit/Free Marxist Publishers: 2010). Her play, Afghan Kuzminki, was featured at the Theatre.doc, in the 2011 Moscow Biennial and at the Wiener Festwochen in 2013. She most recently participated at the Bergen Assembly, showing her latest video-play, Love-machines.

Chto Delat (What is to be done?) is a group of Russian artists, critics, philosophers, and writers who share the goal of merging art, activism, and political theory. The collective’s public debut was held on May 24, 2003, in an action called “The Refoundation of Petersburg,” which was their response to the 300th anniversary of the city. Shortly afterwards, the still nameless core group began publishing an international newspaper called Chto Delat?. The collective’s name is inspired by an eponymous novel by the Russian nineteenth century writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky that described the first Russian socialist workers organizations, as well as a political pamphlet published in 1902 by Vladimir Lenin. Chto Delat is a self-organized platform for a variety of cultural activities intent on politicizing knowledge production through redefinitions of an engaged autonomy of cultural practice.

Anton Ginzburg is a New York-based artist and filmmaker. Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Ginzburg received a classical arts education before immigrating to the United States in 1990. He earned a BFA from Parsons The New School for Design in 1997 and a MFA from Bard College in 2014. His work has been shown at the first and second Moscow Biennales and the fifty-fourth Venice Biennale, as well as the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the Palais de Tokyo, among others. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, as well as private collections around the world.

Pussy Riot is a collective of artists and activists based in Moscow, Russia. In August 2012, two of its founding members, Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikovaand Maria (Masha) Alekhina, were imprisoned following an anti-Putin performance in the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and were released in December 2013. In March 2014, the pair announced the opening of the Mordovia office of Zona Prava (Zone of Rights), their newly created organization advocating for transparency and humane conditions within the Russian justice system. The following September they launched their independent news service, Mediazona, which focuses on courts, law enforcement, and the prison system in Russia. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are the 2012 recipients of the LennonOno Grant for Peace.

Anton Vidokle is an artist born in Moscow and living in New York and Berlin. His work has been exhibited internationally at Documenta 13, Venice Biennale, Lyon Biennial and at Tate Modern among others. As a founder of e-flux he has produced Do it, Utopia Station poster project, and organized An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life, and Martha Rosler Library. Other works include e-flux video rental and Time/Bank, co-organized with Julieta Aranda; andUnitednationsplaza—a twelve-month experimental school in Berlin as a response to the unrealized Manifesta 6. Vidokle is co-editor of e-flux journal along with Julieta Aranda and Brian Kuan Wood. Vidokle was a Resident Professor at Home Workspace Program (2013-14), an educational program organized by Ashkal Alwan in Beirut where he initiated the exhibition, A Museum of Immortality. Most recently, Vidokle has exhibited films in the Montreal Biennale (2084: a science fiction show with Pelin Tan) and the Shanghai Biennale (This is Cosmos, 2014).

Arseny Zhilyaev is an artist who lives and works in Moscow and Voronezh, Russia. Within his recent artistic projects (Museum of Proletarian Culture. Industrialisation of Bohemia,Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow, 2012; M.I.R.: Polite Guests from the Future, Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco and Paris, 2014 and others), the artist proposes new approaches to the tradition of Soviet museology.

Boris Groys is a Global Distinguished Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University and Senior Research Fellow at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe, Germany. Groys was curator of the Russian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011) and of Total Enlightenment: Conceptual Art in Moscow 1960–1990 (2008-2009), among other exhibitions. His recent publications include History Becomes Form: Moscow Conceptualism(2010), Going Public (2010), Art Power (2008), and Ilya Kabakov: The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment (2006).

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