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Petersburg, Pushkin, and Prigov

Ksenia Nouril, C-MAP Fellow for Central and Eastern European Art at MoMA, researched Modern art and met with contemporary artists on a recent trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, an Imperial city that weaves classical traditions with contemporary sensibilities.

In 1833, Russian Romantic poet Aleksandr Pushkin described St. Petersburg as a “northern prodigy” with “granite banks” and “verdant parks” along the “Neva’s augustly flowing water” that put “ancient Moscow in the shade.” In May 2016, I visited the city, which Pushkin immortalized in his poem The Bronze Horseman, and saw it through modern eyes. St. Petersburg is home to a variety of art institutions, from the historic State Hermitage Museum, which is an encyclopedic art museum including the famous Sergei Shchukin Collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, to the Museum of Street Art, which is a private cultural space on the outskirts of the city exhibiting graffiti, wall painting, and other alternative arts since 2014. I immersed myself over five busy days in this cultural capital, visiting museums and nonprofits, such as PRO ARTE Foundation, meeting with artists, including members of the collective Chto Delat, and attending the Sixth International Prigov Symposium in honor of the artist and poet Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov (1940-2007).

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Ksenia nouril

Ksenia Nouril

Ksenia Nouril is a New York-based independent art historian and curator, specializing in Central and Eastern European art. From January 2015 to September 2017, she was the... Read more »
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Petersburg, Pushkin, and Prigov MAP

Petersburg, Pushkin, and Prigov

Ksenia Nouril, C-MAP Fellow for Central and Eastern European Art at MoMA, researched Modern art and met with contemporary artists on a recent trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, an Imperial city that weaves classical traditions with contemporary sensibilities.

In 1833, Russian Romantic poet Aleksandr Pushkin described St. Petersburg as a “northern prodigy” with “granite banks” and “verdant parks” along the “Neva’s augustly flowing water” that put “ancient Moscow in the shade.” In May 2016, I visited the city, which Pushkin immortalized in his poem The Bronze Horseman, and saw it through modern eyes. St. Petersburg is home to a variety of art institutions, from the historic State Hermitage Museum, which is an encyclopedic art museum including the famous Sergei Shchukin Collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, to the Museum of Street Art, which is a private cultural space on the outskirts of the city exhibiting graffiti, wall painting, and other alternative arts since 2014. I immersed myself over five busy days in this cultural capital, visiting museums and...

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Ksenia Nouril, C-MAP Fellow for Central and Eastern European Art at MoMA, researched Modern art and met with contemporary artists on a recent trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, an Imperial city that weaves classical traditions with contemporary sensibilities.

In 1833, Russian Romantic poet Aleksandr Pushkin described St. Petersburg as a “northern prodigy” with “granite banks” and “verdant parks” along the “Neva’s augustly flowing water” that put “ancient Moscow in the shade.” In May 2016, I visited the city, which Pushkin immortalized in his poem The Bronze Horseman, and saw it through modern eyes. St. Petersburg is home to a variety of art institutions, from the historic State Hermitage Museum, which is an encyclopedic art museum including the famous Sergei Shchukin Collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, to the Museum of Street Art, which is a private cultural space on the outskirts of the city exhibiting graffiti, wall painting, and other alternative arts since 2014. I immersed myself over five busy days in this cultural capital, visiting museums and nonprofits, such as PRO ARTE Foundation, meeting with artists, including members of the collective Chto Delat, and attending the Sixth International Prigov Symposium in honor of the artist and poet Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov (1940-2007).

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1. Sixth International Prigov Symposium

Every year the Prigov Family Foundation hosts a symposium in honor of Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov, the late artist and poet associated with Moscow Conceptualism. Prolific in both the Soviet and post-Soviet periods in Russia as well as Western Europe, Prigov is well known for his typewriter works, newspaper drawings (which New York audiences saw in the 2011 exhibition Ostalgia at the New Museum), and his 1986 street performance To the Citizens, which landed him in a psychiatric hospital and elicited reactions of support from around the world. Prigov tragically died of a heart attack in 2007, the day before he was to collaborate with the radical Russian performance art activists Voina. His potential seemed infinite, and it is in his honor...

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Every year the Prigov Family Foundation hosts a symposium in honor of Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov, the late artist and poet associated with Moscow Conceptualism. Prolific in both the Soviet and post-Soviet periods in Russia as well as Western Europe, Prigov is well known for his typewriter works, newspaper drawings (which New York audiences saw in the 2011 exhibition Ostalgia at the New Museum), and his 1986 street performance To the Citizens, which landed him in a psychiatric hospital and elicited reactions of support from around the world. Prigov tragically died of a heart attack in 2007, the day before he was to collaborate with the radical Russian performance art activists Voina. His potential seemed infinite, and it is in his honor that international scholars, including but not limited to Tomáš Glanc, Sabine Hänsgen, Mikhail Iampolski, Elizaveta Kilgarriff, Angelina Lucento, Sven Spieker, and Olesya Turkina, gathered this year at the Pushkin House in St. Petersburg. They shared over thirty presentations on a range of Prigov-related topics, enriching the depth and breadth of the history and interpretation of the artist. Fascinating discussions traced Prigov’s relationship to the Russian avant-garde, as seen in his work Malevich’s Square I from 1989, which is a large-scale installation of drawings on newspaper. The image of the Black Square is a specter that haunts Prigov’s work, repeating and morphing over the several decades of his career. The weight of such great Russian and Soviet master painters is particularly felt in Prigov’s Drawings on Reproductions from the 1990s, in which he subtly enhances images of paintings ripped from cheap, poorly printed books.

2. Hermitage Offsite Storage

The State Hermitage Museum is a multi-complex institution. It holds an encyclopedic collection, including the arts of Ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt as well as Western European art from the Renaissance through Post-Impressionism. While its primary exhibitions halls are located in the heart of St. Petersburg along the Neva River, I had the opportunity to visit the museum’s offsite storage facility at Staraya Derevnya, about seven miles north of the museum’s main buildings. Thousands of objects are stored according to the highest standards in this state-of-the-art facility, which also contains conservation labs and offices. Traveling with colleagues from the Prigov Symposium, we met with curators of modern and contemporary art, who...

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The State Hermitage Museum is a multi-complex institution. It holds an encyclopedic collection, including the arts of Ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt as well as Western European art from the Renaissance through Post-Impressionism. While its primary exhibitions halls are located in the heart of St. Petersburg along the Neva River, I had the opportunity to visit the museum’s offsite storage facility at Staraya Derevnya, about seven miles north of the museum’s main buildings. Thousands of objects are stored according to the highest standards in this state-of-the-art facility, which also contains conservation labs and offices. Traveling with colleagues from the Prigov Symposium, we met with curators of modern and contemporary art, who brought out works by Dmitri Prigov in the Hermitage’s permanent collection to show us. In this intimate setting, we closely examined dozens of works, from his colorful drawings of the 1970s depicting the surrealist cogs and wheels of the Soviet system to his Cans, small tin can sculptures covered in collaged paper and partially filled with cement produced from the 1970s through the 2000s. Sticking out of each can is a sign, denoting its contents—or lack thereof. We assembled several of his monumental multi-part works on paper, including Untitled (Red Composition) from 1980 and Long Monster, a sixteen-sheet pen and ink drawing from 1990. All of Prigov’s works have hidden messages. For example, his Beastiaries look like a series of grotesque portraits of mystical creatures; yet their sitters are all well-known individuals. Their names are coded within a web of text and image. Some of the portraits are of international artists, writers, and composers, such as William Blake and Gustav Mahler, while others are of Prigov’s intellectual circle of friends, including the artists Andrei Monastyrsky, Ilya Kabakov, and Erik Bulatov. I was particularly struck by his series Reproductions with Scotch Tape from 1998-2001, in which the artist used pen and layers of silky translucent Scotch tape on images taken from old calendars, shattering the picture plane. Seen together, these images—labeled with key dates and names—tell a violent and gruesome history of Russia at the turn of the twentieth century.

3. Around St. Petersburg

4. Russian Museum

If you are looking to study the history of Russian art from early pagan crafts and Byzantine icons to realist painting and avant-garde abstraction, look no further than the State Russian Museum. The main building, a neoclassical palace on Mikhailovsky Square, houses countless masterpieces of Russian and Soviet art, including some of my favorites: Ilya Repin’s Barge Haulers on the Volga (1873), Black Square (c. 1923) by Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Deineka’s Collective Farm Girl on Bicycle (1935), and Alexei Sundukov’s Queue (1986). Although separated by over one hundred years, Repin and Sundukov were both looking at the trials and tribulations of everyday life in times of extreme social, political, and economic change—the late 19th century reforms of Emperor Alexander II and an attempt at perestroika in the 1980s that aimed to rebuild the Soviet Union. The gallery of unofficial or nonconformist art from the 1960s through the 1980s was particularly interesting, as it showcased the divergent styles of this historically fraught period. Unofficial artists rejected the state-sanctioned style of Socialist Realism, which heroized the everyday in saccharine depictions of farmers, factory workers, and Communist party members, in favor of unique forms of expression that were in dialogue with international movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Op Art, Surrealism, and Photorealism.

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Petersburg, Pushkin, and Prigov

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Posted on 1 Sep

Were you able to visit the Pushkin 10 Art Center on Ligovsky Prospect?

I would be interested in knowing how you found things there?

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Were you able to visit the Pushkin 10 Art Center on Ligovsky Prospect?

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Ksenia nouril

Posted on 9 Sep

Thanks for your comment, Joseph! I did not have the opportunity to visit Pushniskaya 10 on this trip; however, I have visited St. Petersburg twice before, in 2008 and 2009, when I did visit this art space. Based on that and my conversations with artists, the space has changed a lot over the years. It is not necessarily the same space as it was in the late and post-Soviet times, but it is still a center for art. Now there are so many newer art institutions--both official and start-up--in the city; yet Pushkinsaya 10 is legendary and will always be valuable for its historical contributions to nonconformist and post-Soviet art.

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Thanks for your comment, Joseph! I did not have the opportunity to visit Pushniskaya 10 on this trip; however, I have visited St. Petersburg twice before, in 2008 and 2009, when I did visit this art space. Based on that and my conversations with...

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