• Dubossarsky & Vinogradov, Painters of Russian Life
  • 2013-05-04T00:00:00+02:00
  • 2013-08-25T23:59:59+02:00
  • Retrospective of work by Russian artists Vladimir Dubossarsky (b. 1964) and Alexander Vinogradov (b. 1963). The event is part of Netherlands–Russia Year 2013.

Artists: Vladimir Dubossarsky, Alexander Vinogradov

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Kunsthal KAdE’s summer exhibition is a retrospective of work by Russian artists Vladimir Dubossarsky (b. 1964) and Alexander Vinogradov (b. 1963). The event is part of Netherlands–Russia Year 2013. Dubossarsky and Vinogradov began their partnership in 1994 and over the last 18 years they have produced a large joint oeuvre in a style that is a rich blend of Socialist Realism, Pop Art, Neo-Baroque and camp.

The artist duo’s first work was a portrait of their hero Picasso posing on the banks of the Moskva River with the Kremlin in the background. He is portrayed as if he were Lenin himself. At that period – in the mid-nineties – this was a tremendous artistic statement. It was a time when Gorbachev’s reform policy (Perestroika) was just getting under way and today’s relatively free and westernised Russia was still a distant dream. It seemed impossible then to use the language of Socialist Realism in an ironic way. The atmosphere in the professional art world was certainly against it. The avant-garde was firmly focused on a conceptual, performance-oriented approach; as Vladimir Dubossarsky says in an interview with ARTnews, “Art was either aggressive or depressive. We decided to create paradise.”

Painting as a medium of autonomous artistic expression was still suspect in the mid-nineties, because of its association with Stalinist Socialist Realist propaganda. The fact that Dubossarsky & Vinogradov took that kind of realism as the starting point for their painting style made their work still more controversial in artistic circles. Their ‘commercial’ attitude was also something new. In the end, however, the artist duo proved to have hit the contemporary zeitgeist bang on. The public responded to their fascination with the complex balancing act required to preserve indigenous Russian culture while at the same time embracing Western culture and the mass media.

Dubossarsky & Vinogradov’s pictures are hallucinatory: they combine brilliant colours, an entertaining style of painting, figures tumbling over each other, orgasmic scenes full of detail, explicit eroticism, allusions to the icons of popular culture, and huge panoramic multi-panel formats. In their enthusiasm to seduce the art public, Dubossarsky & Vinogradov display a Neo-Baroque attitude. They conjure up impressive tableaux bursting with apparent sunshine and beauty. In both style and content, they base their work on Social Realist painting, which was also imbued with optimism. The crucial difference is that Social Realist paintings were explicitly intended to serve as state propaganda and their ‘optimism’ had a bitter aftertaste at a time when (by the Stalinist era) the reality of Soviet life was so clearly brutal and dreary.

By contrast, Dubossarsky & Vinogradov’s ‘paradise’ is motivated by wishful thinking and the dream of escaping from the dismal reality of the Soviet era. Their work is strongly ironical. They mock the hedonistic materialism of today, which may seem so utopian, but also has its dark and destructive aspects and has taken on a life of its own within the world of Russia’s nouveaux riches. An American critic has called their work ‘a goofy, distinctively Russian satire of consumerist euphoria’.

In a recent series – ‘For Valour’ (2011) – Dubossarsky & Vinogradov are significantly more reflective and even nostalgic. ‘For Valour’ is a line-up of Soviet military veterans proudly posing with their medals. In this case, the allusion to Socialist Realism is lent an additional resonance by the fact that these Russians are real-life heroes (whereas those in Social Realist paintings were usually idealised). These are people who fought the Nazis to ensure the freedom of Russia. The fact that they were also the fighting force of the Stalinist Soviet Union gives the paintings an extra layer of moral complexity.

Dubossarsky & Vinogradov are distinctly Russian in their subject matter but, as artists, they stand in the tradition of figures like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. They embrace outward appearances and reflect the hedonism of today, but the fact that they do so with a certain ironic edge gives their paintings additional complexity. Their work shows a variety of influences, both from Russian and Western art history and from the contemporary world. Socialist Realism is their chief starting point but their compositions are also influenced by Baroque and Neo-Baroque art (also popular within the Catholic Church). From Pop Art they derive their fascination with mass media images and motifs and from Post-Modernism the examples on which to base their artistic position. This cocktail of Russian and Western traditions and contemporary attitudes to life provides the substrate for their flourishing artistic practice. The two artists were ahead of their time in 1994 and can be seen in retrospect as exemplifying the evolution of contemporary Russia.

The exhibition at Kunsthal KAdE will include both earlier paintings and recent series like ‘For Valour’. A group of watercolours will also be on show.