Critics’ Picks

Untitled (Riders on the Storm), 2005.


Pavel Pepperstein

Campoli Presti | London
223 Cambridge Heath Road
February 22–March 16, 2005

Allegory sets the pace for Pavel Pepperstein’s second exhibition at London’s Sutton Lane. The newest watercolors by the Russian artist, writer, and theorist—who in the late ‘80s cofounded the collective Inspectorate of Medical Hermeneutics with Ilya Kabakov—center on the mythical figure of the knight. For the artist, this figure becomes an idealized subject, represented here in the guise of revolutionary Soviet soldiers, fearful Crusaders, or Zapatistas holding monochrome flags and traveling through no man’s lands, occasionally followed by a hirsute, menacing dog. Bringing together the political satire of Honoré Daumier with Dürer’s apocalyptic horsemen or Cervantes’s transfiguration of chivalric romance, Pepperstein’s roughly sketched images extend the themes of his earlier series, Political Hallucinations, 2002, in which flags of real and fictional nations are combined with characters from Russian fairytales and naively rendered flowers. Peppersteins’ interest in the inner mechanisms of Western politics continues to manifest itself in the symbolic presence of financial currencies and national flags, overlapped here with a quotation from a 1970s illustration by Kabakov: the Moldavian hero Gugutse. To Pepperstein, this boy, whose legendary hat grows to cover entire villages, casting them into total darkness, signifies “global non-understanding.” The juxtapositions of imagery create surprising associations, echoing the innovative narrative method of Pepperstein’s novel The Mythogenic Love of Castes, 1999. In that work, Pepperstein sought to maintain his critical distance from the “take-away culture” that fascinated Russian artists in the ‘90s by using incompatible linguistic systems derived from Western philosophy, Taoist and Russian Orthodox doctrines, psychiatry and pharmacology. Here, too, Pepperstein uses classic surrealist strategies to contemporary political ends.