Across the BordersGarage Triennial

Text by Anton Belov
Director Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

 

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Sergey Poteryaev. From the series Staraya Utka, 2013. Courtesy of the artist

 

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution and Garage is contributing to the celebrations with a somewhat revolutionary show—the very first Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art that will go beyond the walls of the Museum to the surrounding area of Gorky Park, Moscow’s central park. From March 10 to May 14, 2017 Garage will showcase the best of Russian contemporary art, including established and lesser-known artists, some of whom have never been shown in Moscow before.
This is not the first exhibition in the world to focus on Russian art, and it is not the first Biennial or Triennial in Russia. However, it is the first show of this scale to present the work of Russian Artists to an international community. Moreover, in the modern era, Russian culture has been centralized in our western metropolises—St. Petersburg, and Moscow. We would like to expand this focus to take into account all of the artists making work in small cities and towns across our country. Even for curators and artists working in Russia, little is known about these far-flung art communities. Imagine what is in store for an international visitor?
This show is the result of a grand research tour. Over the last year, a team of Garage curators—Katya Inozemtseva, Snejana Krasteva, Andrey Misiano, and Sasha Obukhova—led by Chief Curator Kate Fowle has traveled through our vast country, visiting forty-two cities and towns from the Pacific to the Arctic oceans, crossing eleven time zones. Geographically the largest country on the planet, Russia has an extremely diverse population comprising more than 200 nationalities and 100 languages.
As our curators explored local art scenes across Russia, their understanding of this country’s culture shifted from the national to the local, and to the personal. In Yekaterinburg, the city between Europe and Asia, one of the curators met an artist who is now her future husband. In the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok, the team met with a polymath who has thirty-three artistic alter-egos, each working in different genres. In the Chechen capital of Grozny, Garage curators discovered a video artist with an astonishingly creative visual outlook. And those are just a few of the long list of stories and encounters Garage team had on its travels around Russia.
Though created by artists at different stages in their career, all of the work in the Triennial has been made in the past five years. We decided to choose 2012 as the cut-off because it is Garage’s goal to represent the latest art in the world. In the context of the Triennial, having work made in recent years will help us better understand the contemporary moment, especially as it is seen from different corners of the country.

 

After their return from these research trips, the curatorial team spent months discussing art that they had seen and conversations they’d had. From this wealth of experience and material, they set out a number of structuring principles, or “vectors,” for the Triennial.
These are quite varied, including art that evinces a strong sense of place, art that is used to invent and inhabit imaginary worlds, and art that aspires to change the world, both through local activism, and international conversation. Though the work is quite varied, all of it contains an underlying principle: art as a way of life. The very essence of the Triennial is to bring together artists from across the country, thus, highlighting the social diversity of Russia and offering a unique insight into its culture and art. That said, there are many artists, curators, and visitors who will not be able to attend the exhibition in person. To address this problem, Garage is developing a web-based directory of contemporary Russian artists and local art scenes that will gradually evolve into a comprehensive resource in both Russian and English.

AS OUR CURATORS EXPLORED LOCAL
ART SCENES ACROSS RUSSIA, THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THIS COUNTRY’S CULTURE SHIFTED FROM THE NATIONAL TO THE LOCAL, AND TO THE PERSONAL.

This last element speaks to a central goal of Garage’s overall program. Research-driven and inclusive, the Triennial is emblematic of Garage’s mission to be a place where history is unearthed to enrich the understanding of the present. We want to develop a stronger infrastructure for contemporary Russian art, not only through exhibitions, but through research.
Over the past eight years, Garage has exhibited some of the world’s most iconic artists, as well as Russian artists, be they well-known or emerging. We have established a unique archive and a rigorous network of programs and publishing projects designed to spur conversation and innovation among artists, curators, and scholars. The result of all of this has been to protect the history of contemporary Russian art, much of it unofficial or underground. This Triennial will apply these principles to future generations of Russian artists.