Russian art in the twenty first century has come a long way since socialist realism
Many people when thinking of Russian art tend to think of Constructivism in the years following the 1917 Revolution, or of Socialist Realism from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Constructivism was a fascinating art movement and is worthy of serious appreciation; Socialist Realism was what artists can do when communist terror is watching over their shoulders. I never saw any necessary reason why socialism should mold the arts in such a way but it did.
However after the death of Stalin, Russian art began to open up and as long as artists did not criticise the Soviet system they were able to make art which was figurative and interesting. The Soviet education and training system for artists appears to have been the equal of any in the world, and has left Russia with a community of well-trained artists.
In July 1988 there was a Sothebys auction of art which caused great controversy by converting Soviet art into money. Rock stars such as David Bowie and Elton John bought work. Shortly afterwards the Soviet system collapsed and Russian artists had to scramble for their living outside of the old communist system which, whatever their flaws, provided them with real and metaphorical space to work in
Russians have never lost touch with their history. They have a lot of history to look back on, and do not have to avoid the appalling legacies which European imperialist countries have such as colonial exploitation, slavery or genocide. This in my opinion makes Russian art interesting, as the Russians freely mix references to their history and culture into their art in a way that is rarely seen in Europe or the USA.
So, who are the Russian artists whose work reflects the proud splendour of their past? Here are a few of my picks.
This St Petersburgh artist paints incredible colourful paintings drawn from the rich imperial history of her home city.
Popular in Paris apparently, this artist mixes fashion and other elements into compelling paintings.
This artist explores new approaches to painting and has exhibited around the world.
This intellectual artist explores the problems brought by globalisation.