Critics’ Picks

View of “‘We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams.’ The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969,” 2020, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy.

View of “‘We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams.’ The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969,” 2020, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy.

Moscow

“‘We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams.’ The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969”

Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
Krimsky Val, 9
January 31–May 10, 2020

Tapping into the recent craze for spiritually minded exhibitions, “‘We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams.’ The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969” throws down the gauntlet to the formalist art history of Soviet art. It instead proposes, through a wide array of archival documents, an alternative narrative in which creative and spiritual inquiries were closely related to extrasensory perception, mystical practices, and occult knowledge as informed by the conditions of the fin de siècle, World War I, and the collapse of the Russian Empire. As in any time of upheaval, those dissatisfied with rational explanations of life and society had two choices: retreat to now-discredited philosophies or seek other ways of understanding the forces reshaping human experience.

Curators Katya Inozemtseva and Andrey Misiano stage this aesthetic program in a gallery space with white sloping walls, made of pleated fabric, that suggest shrines of an unknown secret order. Leaving behind iconic figures of Russian esoteric knowledge such as theosophist theoretician Madame Blavatsky and painter Nicholas Roerich, the exhibition spotlights lesser-known heroes, like poet Andrei Bely and his wife Asya Turgeneva—both of whom were members of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society in the Goetheanum—artist Margarita Sabashnikova-Voloshina, and others who chose to live on the fringes of the empire. Contemporary artists were brought in to elucidate the exhibition’s themes: Performance collective Vasya Run transforms George Gurdjieff’s sacred movements into a manual for spiritual and somatic awareness, which is performed by teenagers from Moscow’s urban outskirts, while Alexandra Sukhareva turns the exhibition space into a sleep laboratory and holds collective “hypnotic” séances. Sukhareva aims for another kind of connection—not only between visitors, but also between systems of knowledge both rational and esoteric.