Moscow art magazine №2Moscow art magazine
№2 Digest 2005–2007
The first issue of “Moscow Art Magazine” appeared in September 1993. In June 2005, “MAM” published its first English language digest, summing up more than a decade of the magazine's existence. Since then, no more than three years have passed, but there are good reasons to see this period as a new phase, both for Russian art in general, and for “Moscow Art Magazine” in particular. One may doubt whether the Russian state is really justified in heralding this period as one of “stabilization,” as it has done again and again in recent years. It seems obvious, however, that nothing equivalent to the themes of the current artistic discussion ever appeared in the previous period; moreover, it is quite clear that all these themes more or less stem from the entrenchment of the new regime.
Critical commentary diagnoses the situation in post-Soviet space as “the meeting place of two disintegrating worlds. On the one hand, the current neo-Russian order... though it could be defined as a new regime, is also really an epilogue to the Soviet system’s collapse... A new system has yet to emerge, and the old system is in its final stage of disintegration... Yet on the other hand, contemporary capitalism is understood as a recipe for how to salvage or renew this disintegrating structure. But capitalism is also undergoing a disintegration of its own. So in that sense, the post-Soviet situation can be conceptualized as a meeting of two degenerates, two systems devolving in very different ways. These leads to very strange paradoxes when one system's symptoms of degeneration are misunderstood as forms of renewal or salvation, as paradigms of vitality, dynamism, life, and modernity” (Boris Kagarlitsky “A Meeting of Two Degenerates...”).
And really, as cultural policy under Putin shows, the state is trying to demonstrate just how modern it is, though the result is “little more than an imitation.” In discussing the Second Moscow Biennial, for example, critics agree that “it strives to reproduce all the most status-laden, flashy elements of a popular international mega-show without taking the trouble to change or reconfigure anything... The curators were engaging in intentional and even exaggerated profanations. This was basically an adequate way of catering to the lowered expectations of the biennales sponsors, Moscow’s cultural bureaucracy» (Dmitry Golynko-Volfson “A Biennale of Comfortable Complacency”).
Yet nevertheless, no matter what the result, the state’s increasingly active involvement in cultural space “is largely determining artists’ strategies today. However, what has only recently been a lively and stimulating process, is now becoming ossified, which is manifest in the obvious predilection for glamour, industrial design, and ingenuous commercialization, when the motifs of power and ambition begin to prevail over creative, existential and cultural-critical ones.” Thus, the art scene is once again being confronted with a state-run culture industry, which implements a new type of stratification. “There is a space of global proportion and total ambition, and there is a space of gesture that could be described as anthropological in its scale.” And the choice between these two spheres is not only artistic since “it is precisely this ‘small’ space that permits the moral and ethical issues to resound distinctly and clearly. In fact, it even forces us to make a moral choice. Whereas the space of big socio-political and global-market messages involves rigid external constructions of cynicism and base intents.” (Dmitry A. Prigov “Spaces of Utterance/Spaces of Survival”).
This has been the focus of discussion in recent years: how does one construct “spaces of utterance/spaces of survival” in opposition to power? Which form of resistance is most effective under the present conditions? For some, the current situation as an occasion to actualize the tradition of direct resistance and political satire (Dmitry Vilensky “They say...”). For others, the current developments have occasioned a return to the tradition of the Frankfurt School and the Adornian theory of the “autonomy of art.” After all, “with the ideal of “careful formulation,” art criticizes capitalism by the very fact of its existence. The concretized artistic image criticizes its own relativity and its own limitations, demonstrating them on its own material.” (Anatoly Osmolovsky “The Ethical Code of Autonomy”). Last but not least, there is the no less radical position that claims the urgency of a rejection of actuality as a definitive value, calling upon artists to make “a ‘simple’ meta-perceptive gesture: in displacing the focus of attention (the center of gravity of existential tension) from the ontologically illegitimate outside (linear/total sociality/the realm of necessity) to the inside (living space/the realm of freedom), a leap into the space of unconditional faith” (Teymur Daimi “The Great Unobvious”). There is nothing obscure or reactionary in this position; artists who work in this key “aim to touch on those zones of the Inconceivable in modernity that render art’s effort to appropriate them powerless. These zones require much more mature effort than the art industry” (Keti Chukhrov “Art and its Thresholds”).