New York

Oleg Kudryashov

Albert Totah Gallery

Russian artist Oleg Kudryashov came to the West 12 years ago with none of the publicity and rhetoric that has attended the arrival of other emigres. Since then he has continued to work in his quietly impassioned manner, using the modest techniques of drypoint and relief construction on paper. He works directly on the plate; lines of various densities, burnished or incised, build a cubistic matrix through whose volumes and planes breathes a generous spaciousness. The resultant print provides a further surface that may be rescored and reworked with additional smaller drypoints, or treated with delicate color washes. In earlier work, this process of cancellation and reinscription was expressed in an abstract geometry of crossed-out rectangles that can be read metaphorically as barricaded windows: the cancellation functions in the free passage between an interior and an exterior space, and is uncomfortably evocative of confinement or imprisonment.

This latent political meaning becomes manifest in the artist’s more recent large-scale drypoint prints. In these, Kudryashov juxtaposes small- and large-scale figures to describe the menacing effects on humanity of bureaucratic power hierarchies—as insidiously pervasive in the West as they are overtly present in the Soviet East. Perhaps for Kudryashov freedom is a relative notion; if the Russian artist has been bound by an autocratic system, the Western artist has been no less (but more subtly) limited by the demands of a Modernist esthetic that gave priority to the fantasy of a creative loner and to a formalist language with no responsibility except to its inner logic. Kudryashov, an exile, clearly perceives cultural differences and the nature of language: its intrinsic “foreignness,” and its usage in culture as a means to ensnare the subject in a web of corporate illusions. Kudryashov’s use of the visual languages of his own cultural traditions, especially Constructivism, should not be drawn too readily into a Western reading of Modernist esthetics. The work makes us uneasily aware of what does not translate in the passage of language from one cultural and historical context to another; if Russian Constructivism and its sister activities politicized Cubism, Western Modernism reestheticized Constructivism just as Cubism formalized the language of African sculpture and detoxified its social, ethnic, and political meanings. One does not have to invoke obvious ethnic differences in order to find examples of how Modernism appropriated and homogenized art from elsewhere under its rubric of avantgardism. Constructivism in its historical context symbolizes a momentary sense of liberation, a knowledge that art could once participate as an instrument of political change and communality. While it may be true that in our present consumer society art can no longer dream of possessing any historical or political meaning, perhaps we forget that, for most cultures outside the Western world, art in its various manifestations may still serve a positive social function; and it is perhaps this loss in Western culture that Kudryashov’s work so earnestly demonstrates.

Jean Fisher