Galerie St. Etienne
Russia's Self-Taught Artists:
The Galerie St. Etienne’s inaugurates 2003 with the first American exhibition to examine the work of contemporary Russian self-taught artists. RUSSIA'S SELF-TAUGHT ARTISTS: A New Perspective on the "Outsider" is timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Outsider Art Fair, held at New York's Puck Building from January 23 to 26. A "Side Show," featuring work by the American self-taught artist Henry Darger, will accompany the exhibition.
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"Outsider Art" has become a popular phenomenon in the United States in recent years, but the term assumes a different meaning in the context of the former Soviet Union, where state-controlled art made outsiders of everyone who did not conform to official dictates. Although Soviet propaganda drew on native folk traditions, the regime tried to suppress any kind of autonomous expression. The Russian icon tradition--another obvious source for the unschooled artist--was even more despised, given that the formal practice of religion was forbidden. Under these circumstances, the very act of making art could be subversive.
The Galerie St. Etienne has chosen to focus on four artists who represent four distinct strands of the Russian tradition. The paintings of Pavel Leonov (born 1920) relate to Russian folk art, while Vasilij Romanenkov (born 1952 or '53) is noticeably influenced by icons. Rosa Zharkikh (born 1930), a mediumistic visionary, is probably most similar to Western "outsiders" such as the renowned British artist Madge Gill. Nikifor Zaiatz, who executed an eighty-four page album meticulously delineating his plans for a better Soviet Union, is an almost total enigma, unknown but for this illustrated manuscript, which he sent to a Moscow publisher around 1970. Possibly an outgrowth of Soviet indoctrination, utopianism is an undercurrent in the work of many Russian self-taught artists. All the artists in the present exhibition try to capture in their work a dream that Communism promised but could not, in the end, deliver.
RUSSIA'S SELF-TAUGHT ARTISTS is documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available free of charge upon request. A separate checklist of the Darger "Side Show" is also available on request.