Critics’ Picks

View of “M.I.R.: New paths to the objects,” 2014.

View of “M.I.R.: New paths to the objects,” 2014.


Arseniy Zhilyaev

KADIST - Paris
19 bis - 21 rue des Trois Freres
January 18–March 30, 2014

Moscow-based artist Arseniy Zhilyaev’s latest exhibition, an antiutopian parafictional museum of Russian history, critically investigates the messy relationship between art and politics in contemporary Russia. Divided into three rooms, each distinguished by a specific wall color and theme, the exhibition–cum–installation artwork assembles its arguments through satirical pairings. Painted red, the first section contrasts an enshrined fragment of the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor that prompted the formation of a new church in Russia with the first pastoral announcement given by the church’s Primate, Andrey Breyvichko, in which he denounces the “impious she-devils” of Pussy Riot and extols the miraculous coming of the meteorite.

The second room, colored blue, is the most intentionally provocative. In addition to showcasing memorabilia from former porn star Sasha Grey’s 2013 trip to Russia, the room is dedicated to exhibiting the “performance artworks” of president Vladimir Putin. Press photographs of Putin kissing a fish and hugging a male politician, among others, are supplemented by texts describing the artistic motivation behind the president's actions. More than once, Putin is compared to the Russian artist Oleg Kulik, notable for his performance as a rabid dog.

Left white, the third room consists of the plans and the maquette for a monumental “living” sculpture of a boy and girl (a sort of robotic update of Vera Mukhina’s six-story statue of a worker and Kolkhoz woman for the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris) designed for the Bolotnaya Battle Park Complex. The back wall here functions as a quasi-storyboard for the sculpture, interspersing images of garden statuary dating back to czarist Russia with photographs of protesters struggling against law enforcement officials at an anti-Putin demonstration. Zhilyaev’s comparison seems to suggest this: The activists’ contorted bodies are the public sculptures of the twenty-first century.