Artists: Alexander Vinogradov, Vladimir Dubossarsky
Kunsthal KAdE presents a retrospective of Russian painters Vladimir Dubossarsky (1964) and Alexander Vinogradov (1963) this summer as part of the Netherlands-Russia Year 2013. The duo began working together in 1994 and over the past 18 years have built a rich body of work with a painting language that includes a mixture of socialist realism, pop art, neo-baroque and camp.
The painting duo's first work was a portrait of painter-hero Picasso posing on the banks of the Moskva with the Kremlin in the background. As if Lenin himself were standing there. At the time - the mid-1990s - that was an artistic statement of some magnitude. It was the period when the policy of reform (Perestroika) under Gorbachev was just beginning to take shape. Today's Russia - free and "Western" - was still far away. In fact, there was no room at all yet to use socialist realism as a 'language' in an ironic way. And certainly not within artist circles, where the avant-garde was engaged in a conceptual, performance-like way of working. "Art at the time was aggressive or depressive", says Vladimir Dubossarsky in an interview with ArtNews magazine, "we decided to create paradise."
The "painting" as an autonomous artistic expression was still tainted in the mid-1990s because the medium recalled the propagandistic doctrine of socialist realism under Stalin. That Dubossarsky and Vinogradov also took this same realism as the starting point for their style made the work even more controversial in artistic circles. Their "commercial" attitude was also new. In the end, however, the painters proved to have their finger exactly on the pulse of their own time, with their fascination with the complex tightrope walk between preserving their own Russian culture and embracing Western (mass) culture.
Dubossarsky and Vinogradov's representations are hallucinatory: bright colors, a lusty painting style, figures tumbling over each other, orgasmic scenes full of details, explicit eroticism, references to the worship of mass culture and large panoramic polyptychs. Dubossarsky and Vinogradov do everything to seduce the viewing audience, demonstrating a neo-baroque attitude. They conjure up impressive scenes, full of apparent sunshine and splendor. Both painterly and substantive, the painters build on socialist realism, which was also packed with "optimistic" scenes. Only at that time it was expressly intended as propaganda, and by the time of that painting (in the Stalin era) it was already clear that reality was cruel and dreary, making the 'optimism' wry. The "paradise" of Dubossarsky and Vinogradov is more of a wishful dream, to escape the drab Soviet reality. Irony is an important component. The painters poke fun at the hedonistic materialism that seems so utopian, but also has its dark, destructive sides and has become its own reality within the reality of the New Realms in Russia. An American reviewer called it 'a goofy, distinctively Russian satire of consumer euphoria'.
In one of the recent series - 'For Valour' (2011) - Dubossarsky and Vinogradov are considerably more reflective, even nostalgic, in nature. 'For Valour' is a parade of Soviet veterans, proudly posing with their medals. Here the reference to socialist realism gains additional depth. These Russians are real heroes (in socialist realism, mainly projected heroes were painted). They fought against the Nazis and fought for a free Russia. That they were also the soldiers of (Stalin's) Soviet Union makes it complex.
Dubossarsky and Vinogradov are unmistakably Russian in their subject matter, but as artists they are in the tradition of such personalities as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. They embrace appearances and reflect contemporary hedonism, but with an "edge. This adds layers to their painting. Several influences come together in the duo's work, allowing the painters to both stand with both feet in (their own) art history and connect with the spirit of the times. Socialist realism is their main point of reference. The (neo)baroque - also popular within the Catholic Church - inspires their compositional pictorial program. From pop art they borrow the fascination for images and motifs from the mass media. And in postmodernism they find the examples for their artist's pose. In this cocktail of (Russian) tradition and contemporary attitude to life, their painting flourishes. The painters were ahead of their time in 1994 and in retrospect they exemplify the developments that contemporary Russia has undergone.
The exhibition at Kunsthal KAdE features both older paintings and recent series, such as "For Valour. Also on display is a group of watercolors.