Conflicts between like-minded persons can be as brutal as those between fellow tribesmen. Relations between Andrey Erofeev and the Tretyakov Gallery, where he worked until recently, reflect that very state of chaos that “modern art” finds itself in. DE I discussed with Andrey Erofeev the condition and status of modern art in our life, diligently avoiding the issue of his confrontation with Tretyakov Gallery and censorship.
Andrey Erofeev worked as the Head of modern tendencies sector in the Tsaritsino Museum from 1989 to 2002 during which time he managed to accumulate a collection of modern Russian-Soviet art totaling over two thousand works. He passed his collection on to the Tretyakov Gallery and accepted the position of Head of modern tendencies department of the Gallery in 2002. But his relationship with the Tretyakov Gallery ended with scandal. Erofeev’s and Tretyakovka’s concepts of what exactly the 20th century represents in the Russian arts proved to be too different. 19 works were not approved to represent modern art at the famous Paris Exhibition “SotsArt” in 2007 (including “The Kissing Policemen” by the “Blue noses” group). That was preceded by more scandal with the Exhibition “Forbidden Arts” (2006), where Tretyakov’s officers according to the demands of their ‘comrades’ took down works deemed to be of “abusive content” from the walls of the Gallery. Erofeev is now under prosecution. He quit Tretyakov’s Gallery this year, leaving his collection behind him.
DE I: What is modern art?
If we speak about the 20th century, modern art is definitely divided in two periods: pre-war and post-war. The pre-war period is “modernism”, oriented mainly on some utopian projects for world and person transformation and it includes Kandinsky, Marinetti and many others. At the second stage this utopian platform was replaced by mass culture. And it then emerged on the level of cultural-social expertise.
DE I: “Modern art” seems to be too fabricated, unnatural.
That’s right. An important principle for a new artist is that he puts a ban on creativity. He was born flexible, as an artist, he likes the arts, he has an advanced style, but he forbids to himself to do this. He spends some time studying theoretical literature and then emerges not as an artist, but as an expert, who deals with different combinative things which, from the artistic point of view, are crazy, monstrous, and featureless. That’s why when I worked in the ‘modern’ department of the Gallery, its employees used to say that “sots art” artists were talented people, but they ruined themselves. They spoke about Sokov, that he was the great plastic, he modeled some birds, small animals, and he could have done anything he wanted. He was a great animalist, but suddenly something happened to him, he read too much nonsense and turned into something that only the devil knows what it was.
But the fact is that his character controls his plastic. The artist speaks not on his own behalf but in the name of his character who is a complete stranger to him. That means not only a break with “sots-realism”, but also a principle break with the beginning of the 20th century, with its attitude to the “I”. That’s why these stages have different names: modernism, contemporary art, actual art.
DE I: So why does such ban on creativity exist?
Because the profession didn’t provide any escape route from the obsolete social, political and cultural situation. Suppose you could create your birds, or you sculpted portraits professionally, let’s say of Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov, but you still couldn’t have escaped from the limits of soviet culture and its style. Even the opposition niche was already given by this totalitarian culture and in any case you could become not more than a function of this culture. If you sculpt birds in a very talented and independent way like Henry Moore, and this puts you in opposition to “sots realism”, then you would have been attacked but at the same time you would have been valued. The critics said that Neizvestny was a sculpture although he was a “modernist’, and Sokov was a stranger as he just betrayed the profession. Kabakov, Prigov, Chujkov, all of them passed through this treason of the profession. The break should be absolute at least in consciousness of these people. They stopped to be “artists” and that was a huge push, powerful energetic explosion that gave birth to new arts.
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