In recent years, the Saatchi Gallery has brought us exhibitions highlighting the best in new art from America, India, Germany, China and Korea — now it’s Russia’s turn.
Russia is a country still finding its feet after transitioning from the Soviet era into democracy, and this is reflected in the works of the artists who have lived through it. Janis Avotins creates dark paintings which feature small and fading figures as if they are a distant memory, while Vikenti Nilin photographs tower block inhabitants perched on windowsills. Rather than showing fear, they appear dispassionate reflecting on the country’s uncertain future.
Many of the artists lay into the former regime with cells full of mutilated civil servants and large-scale representations of famous monuments painted on cardboard boxes — commenting on the fragility of former grandeur.
But there is also art that is scathing of the current state of Russia and its neighbouring countries. Boris Mikhailov has taken over 400 photographs of his home town of Kharkov in Ukraine and these images are filled with homelessness, wounded and scarred bodies, dead animals and destitution. It is a particularly difficult display to stomach. Irina Korina’s columnar ‘tribute’ to the wasteful nature of Western capitalism is subtler but just as effective.
Times of sociopolitical change are often catalysts for artistic expression, and it’s clear that the majority of the works on display here reflect the transitional stage that Russia is still in. Though all of the works did not resonate with us, there are plenty of talented artists on display that do capture the imagination and make for a thought-provoking exhibition.
Gaiety is the most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: Art from Russia is on display at the Saatchi Gallery until 5 May. Admission is free.