The Russian revolution sent Kandinsky fleeing, while Tatlin stayed and struggled to balance artistic expression against the aims of the body politic. Decades later, we see an opening and softening of the Russian artistic climate; they’re letting in Levis and letting out hints that glasnost has hit not only Russian politics but art as well.
“Tear Away the Curtain!,” a little show of current Soviet art, rightly exhorts us to check our generalizations about a cold, regimented Russia where the arms race outstrips the arts race. If the implication is that this uneven handful of works makes a case for a “new” and imposing Russian art, then we need to take it all with a grain of salt.
What is clear is that works on view are varied and refreshingly feisty. Some entries look like forced attempts to create what the Eastern bloc sees as Western “cool” (Sergei Shutov’s fake-fur framed, psychedelic “Chipmonk”). Others look like reheated modernism, indicating that the sleeping giant is awake, ripe with potential but not quite up to snuff (Nicolai Filatov’s “Still Life”).
High points include Sergei “Afrika” Bugaev’s acrylic painting of a folkish, dark countryside full of domed mosques and tipsy church spires drawn in dry, puerile contours. Timur Novikov’s charming painting on salmon colored satin features a cartoony, East Village view of a rock band complete with wild lead singer and David Lee Roth accoutrements. Andrei Roiter’s “Street Incident” is a sketchy pair of eye glasses tossed on a gray ground. P.L. Belenok’s “Twighlight” includes isolated images of a nude and a Gothic knoll locked in a black field. Georgi Kisevalter’s “Eight” is a hazy realist rooftop view of a quaint city receding sleepily behind a transparent chess board. Each in its quirky, powerful way captures the emotionally laden, portentious-without-hope-of-climax air of a Dostoevski yarn. (Zero One Gallery, 7025 Melrose Ave., to March 23.)