Christianna Bonin

  • picks May 20, 2019

    Komar and Melamid

    Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid may well have been the Soviet Union’s most infamous dissident artists. Unlike most nonconformists of the early 1970s who avoided Socialist Realism and the party’s mediated ideological aesthetics, they used communism’s stock images and phrases as fodder for their work. Curated by Andrei Erofeev and Joseph Backstein, this retrospective marks the artists’ first joint project since the end of their collaboration in 2003 and highlights their absurd knack for pricking politics—and the art world—in just the right spots. Early on in this roughly chronological display

  • picks January 17, 2019

    Viktor Pivovarov

    Were it a kinder world, art history may have learned about Viktor Pivovarov sooner. Though he came of age aesthetically during the liberal Soviet 1960s, public artistic expression remained a precarious matter, and his first solo exhibition opened only in 1984, in Prague. Now, Moscow’s art institutions are making up for lost time. This show of recent paintings and a sound installation marks the fourth major exhibition of Pivovarov’s art since 2011. It demonstrates his continued ability to parse not only the form but also the hidden realities of life in Russia’s capital.

    The exhibition revolves

  • picks December 17, 2018

    “Democracy Anew?”

    “There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide,” John Adams once conceded of the government he helped to establish. Rather than dictators, it was elected illiberal democrats that he believed would destabilize the system’s core values. Precisely that possibility concerns this multimedia exhibition, which was timed with the Yalta European Strategy conference on Ukraine’s “European future” and argues that there is no better time than the present to reinterpret democracy.

    Outside the museum, Kiev is covered with campaign posters that convey an urgent pursuit of democracy, with a violent

  • picks October 29, 2018

    Leonid Tishkov

    Whether through science or spirituality, humans have long found respite from their terrestrial existence among the stars. So it was for the Russian Cosmists, a group of polymaths who developed a futuristic philosophy based on the Christian Orthodox faith at the turn of the twentieth century, melding technics and space travel with the humanist belief that we are active makers rather than spectators of the universe.

    “The Cosmism of Leonid Tishkov” is one of a spate of recent exhibitions that explore the Cosmists’ writings through contemporary art. At times, as in “Ladomir. Objects of Utopia,” 2006

  • picks July 30, 2018

    “Portal Zaryadye”

    When Zaryadye Park opened in Moscow in September 2017, it had a profound effect on how its visitors viewed the city. The designer space collects Russian climate zones and cuisines in the tradition of world’s fairs, using eco-futuristic technology and modern landscape design. Over eight million people have since wandered through it, photographing the adjacent Kremlin from the park’s artificial hills. Until “Portal Zaryadye,” however, Moscow has lacked a vantage from which to examine the project itself. Buoyed by thematic tension and critical drive, this multimedia exhibition excavates the aesthetic

  • picks February 14, 2018

    Luboš Plný

    Model, janitor, railway electrician: If Luboš Plný’s myriad vocations exclude formal training in art, this sweeping exhibition confirms the artist’s prowess and the contemporary art world’s desire to embrace a practice it once considered “outsider.” Here, we see Plný mercilessly rive his body and psyche, amassing the effects of his self-criticism and physical depredation in collage, sculpture, and photography.

    In two collages from 2012 and 2014 (both Untitled), Plný draws his brain as delicate dissections. Each slice bristles with detail. Often, labels refer to body parts as well as the maladies

  • picks November 27, 2017

    EXAT 51

    As the Yugoslavian political regime liberalized in the aftermath of World War II, breaking from the Eastern Bloc, so too did the region’s artists. The group EXAT 51 (Experimental Studio 51) is a product of those years, when abstraction replaced Soviet socialist realism as the country’s official artistic style. A brain-scrambling number of the group’s art and design projects are presented here, highlighting EXAT 51’s fervent efforts to provide its society with new modes of self-representation.

    Because the exhibit, even with its thematic headings, largely seems to organize EXAT 51’s projects

  • picks August 16, 2017

    Yuri Palmin

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a plethora of images have emerged that both decontextualize Soviet buildings as otherworldly objects and evoke the USSR’s demise through its architectural legacy in ruins. Yuri Palmin’s large-scale color photographs, which portray the bold Soviet buildings of Almaty, Kazakhstan, in faded blues and grays, avoid nostalgia. Instead, this work shows untidiness—the sort produced in and around buildings by real people as cities develop or disappear over time during Russia’s tumultuous transitions over the past half century.

    Viewers can sink into details of Aul

  • picks July 07, 2017


    Sever-7, an artist collective named after the 1955 Soviet expedition to the Arctic, consists of both alumni of and educators at Saint Petersburg’s academies who came together four years ago to sidestep institutional parameters. Though earlier projects by the group include ephemeral actions in forests and basements, this show of recent work reads as more conventional. Its title, “One Seventh of the World,” refers to the Soviet Union’s loss of territory—present-day Russia now covers a mere one-seventh of the earth—and to Dziga Vertov’s 1926 film One Sixth of the World. But the attempt to find

  • picks June 01, 2017

    “The Thaw”

    Though this institution maintains an extraordinary collection of postrevolutionary Russian art, it did not begin the year as many such museums outside of the country did—with an exhibition marking the centenary of the violent, utopian Russian Revolution. Instead, the museum addressed a less contested period: the Khrushchev Thaw. Encompassing fifteen years of his leadership and its aftermath (1953–68), this multimedia exhibition reinforces an accepted narrative—the Thaw as inspiration for brave explorations of culture, science, and the Stalinist past—by culling five hundred objects from over

  • picks March 22, 2017

    “Transpositions II: How We Find Our Way to Transcendental Homelessness”

    Many artists move through the contemporary art world as nomads, partaking in a burgeoning global infrastructure of short-term artist-in-residence programs. Have such programs produced this transient identity? Or is it post-Wende globalization that has destabilized the meaning of home, distributed capital, and fated us to roam? These questions motivate “Transpositions II,” which presents works by the twelve participants in the Saint Petersburg Arts Residence between 2015 and 2017.

    All of the artists accept nomadism because they believe it keeps them critical of themselves and the institutions in

  • picks November 14, 2016

    Neue Slowenische Kunst

    A ferocious noise assaults visitors on the top floor of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. It stems from a film in which men in gray uniforms shout fragments of speeches by Tito and Mussolini while wartime imagery flickers behind them. The film is of a concert at the Ljubljana Novi Rock Festival in 1982 by the group Laibach, who established the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) art collective two years later with the artist groups IRWIN and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre in post-Tito Yugoslavia. Never before has an exhibit explored in such depth NSK’s vast output of writing, films, posters, and