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#13 - JRL 7023
St. Petersburg Times
January 17, 2003
The eternal russian question
by Aliona Bocharova

The question of "what is to be done?" - which was immortalized by 19th-century radical Nikolai Chernyshevsky and, subsequently, Vladimir Lenin - has plagued intellectual and popular discourse about the fate of Russia since the time of Peter the Great.

Now, an exhibition running at the Borey Gallery asks three St. Petersburg artists more or less the same question, but with a less cliched title. For "How Are We To Renovate Russia?" - a quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn - the gallery has given Vladimir Kozin, Igor Mezheritsky and Oleg Khvostov a hall each to express their solutions.

Kozin, who works with newspaper clippings, presents a series entitled "Jews, Please Come Back To Russia." Employing common stereotypes, he exaggerates the importance of his characters by placing them in new contexts. President Vladimir Putin, for example, has a Pushkin-esque curly head of hair, playing on and rhyming with the popular expression "Pushkin is our everything." Astronaut Yury Gargarin, the national hero with the snow-white smile in the television commercial for Orbit chewing gum, holds a snow-white dove in his hands.

Ks Chernyshevsky. "Who is guilty? What is to be done? These questions from classical Russian literature reflect the infantile belief of most Russians that someone should come and help us rebuild Russia. Maybe the Jews?"

Kozin is a member of "The New Dullards Association," which formed around the Borei Gallery in 1996. The association represents the left wing of St. Petersburg's artistic scene, and mocks Soviet idealism and proletariat-oriented themes, peppered with a philosophical background. However, it is far from thriving - Kozin points out that two members have emigrated to Germany. The gallery itself, it seems, is, like Russia, in need of renovation.

The central hall, devoted to works by Oleg Khvostov, contains merely an empty wall with a solitary announcement: "Three works already sold for $500 each." Whether an apology or proof of the works' value, the notice is a disappointment. Khvostov's paintings, garish and and almost decorative, border on the kitsch in terms of form and content. One work portrays the anti-Christ raising Lenin from his coffin. Khvostov tries to define his work in terms of the similarities between icons and comics, "as they both tell the story of either a saint or a hero."

Pseudo-pop artist Igor Mezheritsky duplicates a political campaign poster from a street advertising hoarding and defaces it chaotically using a pencil. Another photocopied image is apparently that of Solzhenitsyn - although the inscription has been altered with blue pen to read "anybody but" Solzhenitsyn.

Both Khvostov and Mezheritsky work periodically with "The New Dullards Association," leading to the conclusion that all three artists in the Borey Gallery's current display are prepared to use idiocy as an artistic trick, which is appropriate, since anyone who would take on the task of reconstructing contemporary Russia would have to be a genius, like Solzhenitsyn, or a complete fool.

"How Are We To Renovate Russia?" is at the Borey Gallery until Friday.

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