Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: Art from Russia at the Saatchi

By Jess Strudwick | 05 November 2012
A black and white photo of a Russian man covered in tattoos standing up in profile
Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Print No 12 (2010). Giclée print© Sergei Vasiliev. Image courtesy Saatchi Gallery
Exhibition Preview: Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: art from Russia, Saatchi Gallery, London, November 21 2012 – May 5 2013

Given its rapid transition in the last twenty years, it’s not surprising that these images of modern Russia sometimes make for uncomfortable viewing.

A group of 18 contemporary Russian artists have joined forces to create paintings, photography, sculpture and installations that reflect on the current complexities of life in Russia, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Perestroika years. Most of the artists are emerging young talents, rarely shown internationally before.

A photo of a Russian man with a huge thick beard and moustache staring open mouthed
Boris Mikhailov, Case History (1997-98). Set of 413 photographs© Boris Mikhailov. Image courtesy Saatchi Gallery
The exhibition, which takes its name from a speech made by Stilin in 1936, presents Boris Mikhailov’s photographic piece, Case History, which plays a key role in explaining Russian history through a documentation of Mikhailov’s hometown of Kharkov following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Many of the political works in this series play on Russia’s tradition of rich humour and jokes to cover the trauma experienced by citizens. Others show influences from modern art in Russia such as Ilya Kabakov, Malevich and Rodchenko.

Liudmila Konstantinova, in particular, gives an indication of how contemporary art in the country has progressed. One of her pieces, Icicle, is a sculpture bursting with bright colours and various shapes along with Gosha Ostretsov’s futuristic cartoon strip, Sex and The City.

“Their art is multifocal and transcendent, poetic and hypocritical, politicized and romantic,” says Dimitri Ozerkov, the Director of the Contemporary Art Department of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

“It is probably the most global art in the world, but still very much related to its origins.”

  • Open Monday-Sunday 10am-6pm. Admission Free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @saatchi_gallery.

More pictures:

An image of a colourful, detailed painting of a street scene in Russia
Dasha Shishkin, What Does it Matter to her Ever Creating Womb if Today Matter is Flesh and Tomorrow Worms (2012). Mixed media on Mylar© Dasha Shishkin. Image courtesy Saatchi Gallery
A black and white photo of a man sitting on the ledge of a window high up in flats
Vikenti Nilin, From the Neighbours Series (1993-present). Giclée print© Vikenti Nilin. Image courtesy Saatchi Gallery
An image of a colourful painting, mainly in dark yellows, of a crumbling Russian building
Valery Koshlyakov, Grand Opera, Paris (1995). Tempera on cardboard© Valery Koshlyakov. Image courtesy Saatchi Gallery
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