In July 1988, Sothebyís held a landmark auction in Moscow that fetched sensational prices for twentieth-century Russian art and made famous many of the modern and contemporary artists represented in this exhibition.
One of these artists, whose work had a particularly strong resonance both at
home and in the international art scene, is Ilya Kabakov, a leading participant in Moscow Conceptualism of the 1970s and 1980s. In many ways, his installation The Man Who Flew into Space (1981–88) is an apotheosis of Soviet art. The story of the Soviet everyman of the title—a resident of a communal apartment—is told through vague accounts of his neighbors and the objects he left behind in his tiny room. He fled his monotonous daily life by catapulting himself through the buildingís roof in order to reach paradise. Kabakov used space travel to conceptualize the basic desire to escape the confines and regulations of Soviet life, as well as the universal human aspiration to attain personal freedom.
The 1990s marked a time of historic change in Russia. In 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first democratically elected president in the nation's history, and the dismantling of the USSR was followed by the formation of the Russian
Federation. Since 1990, a vibrant contemporary art scene has emerged thanks to the establishment of commercial galleries—a phenomenon that has especially exploded in the last two years—the publication of contemporary art journals and criticism, the formation of contemporary art centers in numerous cities, the acquisition of contemporary art by museums, and participation by Russian artists in international art exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale and the first Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, which opened in January 2005.
The works in this final section examine Russiaís past and self-perception in myriad ways and in diverse media, ranging from painting to installation and from wax sculpture to video. Vadim Zakharov's installation The History of Russian Art—From the Avant-Garde to the Moscow School of Conceptualists (2003) literalizes the concept of historical reflection in its structures or ìroomsî dedicated to specific movements of Russian art of the twentieth century.
It demonstrates that all art, contemporary art included, is ultimately subject
to the judgments of history. In this sense, the latest chapter of Russia art is still very much a work in progress.
ABOVE: Ilya Kabakov, The Man Who Flew into Space (from the Ten Characters series), 1981–88. Wood, rubber, rope, paper, electric lamp, chinaware, paste-up, rubble, and plaster powder, 96 x 94.9 x 147 cm. Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Philippe Migeat/CNAC/MNAM/Dist. Réunion des musées nationaux/Art Resource, NY.