To find an image of Lenin upside down, walk into a model of an apartment in the GDR turned over to one side and not step on the Welcome mat, lined with needles – such advice could be given to visitors to the Unity. Diversity ”, which opened in the Tretyakov Gallery. The largest international project in the field of contemporary art brings together 90 artists from 35 European countries and presents the most relevant art trends of the continent in all possible genres. The Russian viewer, however, can perceive unexpected parallels between Soviet and current Western approaches to creativity. You can verify this until March 13.

Great art

The exhibition was expected in Moscow a year ago – Russia was supposed to see it first, then the works would go to Germany. But the pandemic confused the cards, so the project first started in Berlin, in the building of the former Tempelhof airport, and only then “Landed” in the New Tretyakov Gallery, where most of the West Wing was given to him. The huge space on the third floor is perfect for installations that are impressive not only in ideas, but also in physical scale.

For example, German woman Henrike Naumann built a full-size version of the living room, collecting the entire interior from GDR items (armchairs, chairs, wired telephone …). Put on fluffy slippers and you can go inside without fear of damaging the exhibits. After all, they are on the wall. Everything is turned on its side, which symbolizes the coup that happened in 1989.

Photo: Izvestia / Pavel Volkov

A solid area was occupied and installation by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. “The last swing. Monument to the last man “ depicts a wave, on the crest of which is a boat with a rower grabbing the oars and leaning back in an attempt to maintain balance. The plastic image is expressive, but the metaphor is perhaps even too obvious: the Western world barely emerges from the storms shaking it.

Finally, the whole theatrical set was constructed by Anselm Kiefer. His Winter Path is a forest in which the viewer sees images of war (a gurney for the wounded, a rifle), surrounded by inscriptions with iconic names for German romanticism. And the work itself as a whole is an allusion to the vocal cycle of the same name by Schubert. Thus, the artist reflects on the path from the lofty ideas of the 19th century to the horrors of the 20th century.

The theme of the elimination of Nazism and the awareness of the guilt of the German people for many years was key for Kiefer, but recently, clear expression in his work has given way to hidden sadness and melancholy, and harsh dramatic color schemes have been replaced by a restrained palette of mainly gray, earthy, brownish and greenish shades. reminiscent of withered grass (by the way, he also often uses real grass and branches). In terms of aesthetics, The Winter Path is quite in line with what Russian viewers saw earlier at the Hermitage exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the revolution, inspired by Velimir Khlebnikov. Only rougher. Thematically, this is a return to the former sharpness and directness of the statement.

Don’t be free from society

Both Kiefer and Kabakov, despite the fact that both have long been in the status of classics, feel the time better than many young people. And this time, it seems, again prompts the creation of social art, raising the problems of society and affecting its sore spots. But if the aforementioned authors at least shy away from the political agenda, most of the other exhibitors seem to be looking for topics for work through news feeds. Let’s say the exposition contains a number of works about migrants.


Photo: Izvestia / Pavel Volkov

Richard Moss (Ireland – USA) filmed the life of refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos with a special military camera for two years and made a video mosaic of 16 screens from the resulting frames. Rineke Dijkstra (Netherlands) has been creating portraits of a Bosnian refugee for 20 years: during this time, the heroine of the photo series, who arrived in Amsterdam as a little girl, managed to start a family and become a mother. And Sheila Kameric (Yugoslavia-Bosnia) supplemented the large letters of the word LIBERTY with needles like those that are attached to monuments to prevent birds from perching. In the same ideological vein, the WELCOME door rug made of pins is the work of Mona Khatum, an artist from Lebanon who works in England. The message of both installations is clear: European freedom is not for everyone, the hospitality of the continent is deceiving.

Not without the theme of feminism. The same Cameric was photographed in a warlike manner – with a submachine gun and a completely transparent top on her chest. The cycle of photographs by Sani Ivekovic (Croatia) is also declarative, where the revelations of ordinary women who have been subjected to domestic violence are placed under the images of the models.

In general, the problem of such works is the lack of aesthetic intrinsic value. Take away the actual theme – the artistic meaning will also disappear. And here the Russian authors presented in the exposition look better. Even when they create works with a social sound, the actual visual expressiveness and originality do not fade into the background. So, In Olga Chernysheva’s photo cycle “On the Road”, the image itself first catches – crystal chandeliers, for some reason found themselves near a deserted forest, and then the background becomes clear, and the perception changes dramatically. Chernysheva filmed a property sale on the side of the road, so this combination – surreal, beautiful in itself – is in fact a documentary fixation of extreme poverty.


Photo: Izvestia / Pavel Volkov

You can fly into space

There was a period in our history when a large amount of average aesthetic qualities, but ideologically verified art was produced. Apparently, the “inoculation” of those times is still valid: artists do not want to put ideas above beauty again. But the Europeans have not received such an experience. And they plunged headlong into social and political activism. Democracy, war, feminism, trauma of the past, violence, refugees, refugees, refugees …

All the more valuable against this background are works that rise above the problems of the day and talk about the eternal, metaphysical. In the work “Aurora” by the Russian group “Blue Soup”, a meditative video with a meteorite descending under an alarming roar reminds us of apocalyptic theories that promise death to all living things from space objects. But there is no disaster. Maybe it’s just a shooting star and you need to make a wish? Ambiguity of interpretation, metaphysical sound typical for the series of the German classic Gerhard Richter: 66 real photographs from his travels he finished with paint. It looks as if a mysterious abstract mass is approaching on ordinary life, which is about to swallow it up, erase it.

It is impossible to pass by the sculptures of another master, Briton Anthony Gormley, although they are not located in the main exhibition space, but in the basement hall to the left of the entrance to the museum. Five structures made of cast iron blocks, fixed on the wall a few millimeters above the floor, can be called Atlanteans of the future, but there is emptiness above their backs. They float in zero gravity. These are frightening faceless robots of the space age, and computer pixels in the flesh.

For the sake of such works as Richter, Gormley, “Blue Soup”, Chernysheva, and it is necessary to go to “Unity. Manifold”. But even more straightforward things are not superfluous here. They are evidence of what Europe lives and breathes now. And it is up to the viewer to take it as high art or as a diagnosis – in the art environment and society.

Leave a Reply