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Oleg Vassiliev, Space and Landscape, 1994, oil on canvas, 48 × 36". From “Paper Museums: Moscow Conceptualism in Transit.”

“Paper Museums: Moscow Conceptualism in Transit”

John Hansard Gallery

Oleg Vassiliev, Space and Landscape, 1994, oil on canvas, 48 × 36". From “Paper Museums: Moscow Conceptualism in Transit.”

Oleg Vassiliev’s 1994 painting Space and Landscape depicts beams of white light, like those surrounding holy figures in Russian icons, against a row of birch trees visible in the background. Birch trees are the most distinctive feature of Russia’s rural landscape; taking a train from Saint Petersburg to Warsaw, you can watch them for hours. The forest has both practical and symbolic importance in the history of Moscow Conceptualism. For the dissident artists of the Soviet era, who had no opportunity to exhibit in public and were prosecuted for exhibiting in private, the birch forest was a place of refuge, of encounter with other artists—a place for collective, spontaneous, plein-air exhibitions. Vassiliev’s white light evokes that sense of spiritualism and mystery that was central to the milieu described by Boris Groys in a famous 1979 essay as “Moscow Romantic Conceptualism.”

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