Critics’ Picks

Viktor Pivovarov, Portrait of Ruben Varshamov, Editor of the Journal Veselye Kartinki, 2017, oil on canvas, 3' x 2 1/2'.


Viktor Pivovarov

Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum
Ostozhenka 16
October 24, 2018–February 3, 2019

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 around a new series of paintings, “Moskva! Moskva!” (Moscow! Moscow!), 2017. The works’ titles, enlarged and decaled alongside each canvas, often recount seemingly banal events. Chelovek ostavil zapisku, chto poshel v magazin, a na samom dele ischez v neizvestnom napravlenii (A Person Left a Note That He Went to The Store, But in Fact Disappeared in an Unknown Direction) captions a painting of a lonely figure whose face is fragmented by geometric shapes, an elephant trunk, and the message itself. Zamoskvorechye. Seryi den’. (Zamoskvorechye. Gray Day.) references a present-day Moscow neighborhood. But visually, this streetscape consists of a bridge, collated green fence, red cylinder, and black squares, migrating before us from the earthbound to the abstract. Pivovarov’s stories are less about a lived reality than a dreamed one.

In mid-’90s Russia, when Pivovarov made Esli. (If), 1995, questioning the language used by officials to discuss events was key to deconstructing their authority. Esli. performs this process in ten charts, which unravel several chains of possibility from the single phrase “If I get dressed and leave the house.” The inner monologue breaks down each event, revealing it to be a progression of linear hypotheticals. When I saw the exhibition, visitors crowded around each chart, eager to finally learn the scenario’s outcome. But Pivovarov ultimately withholds. The implied “then” is up to us.