Attention! Siberia! Dispatch from Novosibirsk

Artists in Novosibirsk, as those throughout the world, are separated into various groups and factions. Even during the period of Soviet totalitarianism, when the ideals of equality were strictly enforced, artists were separated into two groups: members of the Union of Artists of the USSR (now the Russian Federation) and non-members, more commonly referred to as “amateur artists.”

In today’s society, artists of Novosibirsk are more frequently separated into groups through individual characteristics such as talent, productive nature, style, and business principles.

Most artists of Novosibirsk work within traditional fields of art that are relevant to Russian culture, such as painting, sculpture, graphic arts, cartoon, architecture, and the applied arts. Within the last few decades there has been an influx of artists specializing in advertising, television, photography, filmmaking, and design.

However, these artists were rarely allowed membership into the Union of Artists and, therefore, founded their own union, the Union of Designers. Artists specializing in design resemble the faction of contemporary artists in that they are not united by any specific organizational structure or institution.

Within the city of Novosibirsk, which has a population of approximately two million, there are few individuals who would claim to have been influenced by the ideals and expressions of contemporary art.

Artists of design occasionally participate in contemporary, international art exhibitions that take place in Moscow or St. Petersburg. But, more frequently these artists take part in various festivals and events sponsored by foreign charitable organizations such as the Soros Foundation, Ford Foundation, British Council, Goethe Institute, etc.

Contemporary artists do not consider the members of the Union of Artists to be of equal artistic status, but rather dull craftsmen conforming to the rigid, traditional views of Russian art. Conversely, members of the Union regard contemporary artists as reckless, unstructured individuals who disgrace the “high-status” and “cultural mission” of Russian art.

During the Soviet period in Russia the ruling communist party carried out an “ideological struggle” against the westernization of art. Because of the Soviet administration, some artists took a conformist approach to communist ideology through the expression of their work, creating a sense of aggression towards those artists with Western, experimentalist views.

This situation did create some conflict but none that was taken seriously or proved to be extremely detrimental to the art community. In spite of the repressive acts of society, young artists still became stimulated and inspired by Western artistic views.

In the period of perestroika the conflict between official and informal, traditional and innovative views of art were spontaneously neutralized by the introduction of a diverse, comprehensive art market.

This ideology, which has continued through to the present, substituted the old “ideological struggle” of Russian art culture and has since conformed to its new political structure of a multi-party system.

Westernization is a common influence in much of art culture, but due to the fact that Russia is a non-western culture, there is a sense of controversy in how much Westernized styles should influence Russian art. There is particular criticism placed on contemporary Russian-especially regional-artists due to the Western association of their artistic style.

The material livelihood of artists is usually dependent on commercial success or failure. Some aspects that contribute to financial well being within the artistic market are productivity and the ability to work within market trends.

It is now possible to sell any form of art anywhere and within any price range. Generally speaking, prices are seldom high and most often accommodate middle to low figures.

Overall, the art market in Novosibirsk is rather consistent. The demand for artusually focuses on a traditional style including the fine and decorative arts.

In general, the most popular forms of painting are stylistically representative of the Western European masters of the 17th-19th centuries, or modern art. The strongest individual stylistic influences include Bosch, Canaletto, Klimt, Dahli and Brunovski.

Within in the past few years there has been an emphasis on abstract painting by the group the “New Russians.” There are approximately five internationally renowned abstract painters in Novosibirsk.

Contemporary artists on the other hand do not find much of an open market for their technologically based work. Photo, video, Internet projects, objects, “ready-mades,” performances, and installations do not sell very well, and even then they are sold primarily to foreign consumers.

Due to the increase in private contracts within the artistic market, active architects, designers, and artists have opportunities to design interiors for cafes, offices, and private apartments. The Novosibirsk State Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, which opened in the 1930’s offers a background in architectural education, mostly concerning interior design. In fact, most contemporary artists in Novosibirsk have studied at the institution’s department of architecture.

The prices of artistic pieces vary according to one’s artistic status within the artistic community. Street craftsmen sell their paintings in parks and metro stations for $10 to $100.

Union of Artists members sell at $100 to $800, rarely reaching $1000. There is one known case of a painting being sold for $2000, but this is regarded more as rumor due to the lack of documentation as to the identity of the piece or painter.

Some artists are involved in architectural planning, designing their own projects, and collaborating with others. Other artists teach at art schools such as the Academy of Arts and Architecture, Department of Fine Arts and Graphics of Pedagogical University, and School of Arts, earning a monthly income of approximately $50 to $200.

Few artists manage to sustain a stable income strictly from selling their work. Nonetheless, the talent of these artists is emphasized by the constant market demand for their work.

These artists are concerned with developing their own personal sense of style, recognizing the importance of expressing an individual, unique vision. Their work concentrates primarily on the role of form and color, less often on that of narrative. In general, not many artists discuss the social and political responsibilities of artists or contemporary art.

There are those artists who produce contemporary, socially reflective works of art. In Novosibirsk there are approximately 20-25 artists who are distinguished through small, often disintegrating groups that discuss such issues.

Among such groups are the “Blue Noses,” which includes artists such as Dmitry Bulnygin, Viacheslav Mizin, Konstatnin Skotnikov, and Maxim Zonov, who recently died in a car accident. The group’s philosophy revolves around social and personal critique, expressed through black humor, “artistic idiocy,” silly heroics, irony and self-mockery, parody, and the grotesque.

This is an art that expresses a sense of context: addressing the “here and now” in relation to westernized, skeptical, contemporary audiences. The Blue Noses present photography, video, and performance for both their domestic and international art scenes.

Their social attitude is reminiscent of medieval Russian yurodivys (God’s fools): traveling buffoon artists or European court jesters. The artistic style of the Blue Noses appeals to more Westernized sentiments and is often more appreciated in larger, more culturally diverse cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg.

Despite this fact, the Blue Noses do find a local following within Novosibirsk. The artists act as their own curators and art managers, consciously developing their own sense of appeal and audiences. To quote Baudrillard, the Blue Noses “manufacture demand” for their work and do it quite effectively.

The 1990s saw the development of clubs and galleries in the promotion of art culture. Such established art clubs and galleries include “888,” presently closed for repairs, and the gallery club “Black Widow.”

Functioning among these clubs and galleries are the so-called alternative cultural venues such as the Kondratiuk Foundation at Municipal Museum of Space Exploration, and Open Bunker, a former bomb shelter.

These are the venues used by contemporary artists for exhibitions, video screenings, and related parties. Such exhibitions rarely occur within the other few galleries and never take place within the venues controlled by the Union of Artists.

The history of contemporary art in Novosibirsk is briefly outlined in a catalog “Kunst aus Nowosibirsk,” published by ifa-Berlin (1998.)

The contemporary art scene in Novosibirsk is covered by the following web sites: – Novosibirsk group Blue Noses – Novosibirsk Extra Short Film Festival – Novosibirsk artists on the website of the Moscow “Guelman Gallery” – Club gallery Black Widow (Novosibirsk) – Club “888” (Novosibirsk) – Novosibirsk galleries and artists – Novosibirsk galleries and artists – General information about Novosibirsk