Interview with Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov

Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov are the most promising Russian artists of their generation. They represented Russia last year in the Venice Biennial. Their paintings are included in permanent collections of Le Centre Pompidou in Paris; MAK, Vienna; and The Houston Museum of Art. In 2003 they had five solo exhibitions throughout the world including a show in New York in the Deitch Gallery. Dubosarsky and Viongradov live in Moscow.

Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, 'Our Best World', oil on canvas, 2003. Image courtesy of the author.Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, 'Harvest Celebration', oil on canvas, 1995. Image courtesy of the author.Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, 'Hot Summer', oil on canvas, 1996. Image courtesy of the author.Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, 'Underwater', oil on canvas, 2003. Image courtesy of the author.
Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, 'Our Best World', oil on canvas, 2003. Image courtesy of the author.Vladimir Dubosarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, 'Underwater', oil on canvas, 2003. Image courtesy of the author.

Veronika Georgieva: In 1994, the very beginning of your collaboration, your project appeared as a sufficiently radical and confusing gesture –because it didn’t fit into the two main art movements at that time: radicalism and Moscow conceptualism. It didn’t have the aggressiveness of the radical artists, nor conceptual context, to which the Moscow artistic environment was accustomed.

Alexander Vinogradov: That was the moment, when radical artists came out against conceptualists, and on that background a lot of people just didn’t understand our project.

Vladimir Dubosarsky: It was a time when Moscow romantic conceptualism depleted its resources, and there was no other structure that would work in contrast to it. We wanted to make a “fashionable project”, something that would be different from conceptualism. Conceptualism ignored fashion tendencies in society, and our projectis the dissolution in society. As Tolik Osmolovsky wrote “Art is as simple as mooing”. Artists of our generation tried to find their own ways. Radical artists represented an aggression of drastic changes in society and their hooligan gestures matched the actions of our parliament, basically the same fights and so on. In contrast, our project was aimed at the different side of those changes – the life of fashion magazines, people from the movies [etc.]. Like two sides of a coin: from one side – the dirt, and the other side, ours – the cover of fashion magazines.

VG: You have often been compared with SocArt artists Komar and Melamid. You also chose the language of social realism.

VD: Probably because there is also two of them and, somehow, it was crossed with social realism. But their work is about different things and made differently. Know-how of Komar and Melamid, that they worked with ideology, Soviet clichés in an ironic way. We were just telling our stories, very different stories using the language of social realism. And with time, this language transformed into our own style and language; later the product was such that nobody had made before. We had the intention that our painting would be public. Not Sasha’s, not mine, but public. Art is usually in the area of the subjective, the territory “about me, mine”. And because we departed from Soviet traditions (where there was a certain ideology and art served that ideology) we tried to understand what ideology exists now or what ideology people could relate to most. That is to say everybody can sort of relate to paradise, beautiful women, animals, movie heroes, favorite actors, stars, and recognition. So we wanted to create not our world, but that dream land that a majority of our planet aspires to.

VG: Some kind of collective phantasm?

VD: Yes, something that would be clear to the people without explanations in places like China, New York, Moscow or Paris. Because everybody knows who Schwarzenegger is – that is to say art without borders. We are making a transparent world, understandable for everybody. This was our fundamental distinction from conceptualism; where the context in which the object obtains its value is extremely important. We wanted to make art where text is more important than context. Where the art piece speaks for itself and it doesn’t need the artist to sing along commentary, or a critic to put this piece into a context. If you threw away half of the art pieces from any museum into the trash, nobody would pick them up because they would never guess these are very valuable things. But take our painting and everybody will understand that this is a piece of art that accidentally got into the garbage can. That’s to say everybody understands that this is art. That’s why from the beginning we chose this language and method, because it immediately speaks for itself – I am art and treat me as art. I’m not life, not an imitation of life, I’m the product of the vital activity of an artist.

VG: Like movies. Your paintings are not life, not imitation of life, but rather a movie, the Hollywood movie with appearance of stars – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez. All of your works are exceptionally cinematic, some earlier works were evenmade as a poster for the movies. According to Bodrijuar, cinema is “… the only great collective constellation of seduction, which was able to produce modernity…”. I think your paintings are seductive first of all due to their cinematic characteristics, a certain “perfect moment of presence”. Your new work exhibited at the Deitch Project in New York – is the most saturated example in this sense.

AV: Yes. As they say the whole life of the director is shooting only one movie. And at some point we realized we are doing only one painting. The canvas of our painting is like film, where we are mixing all styles into the frame. In the new painting there is an action scene of a penguin’s attack and elements of intellectual cinema…

VD: There are also horror scenes and a pastoral with Madonna portrayed. Usually we are including porno-scenes, but here we decided not to shock the American audience.

VG: For example, ” Harvest”, where in the background of tractors and cows, there is a group-sex scene. As a matter of fact in your early works you painted many naked figures. And if somebody was shocked by pornographic plots, I was more shocked by work withnaked Russian writers. From earliest childhood we were so used to seeing the school portraits of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol in suits, which seem forever stuck to them. It was such a revelation to see they had bodies under the clothes. You even bared Schwarzenegger as far as his mythological condition, the condition of the “Terminator”, showing him as a normal Soviet lad smoking a cigarette on a hill, part of a Russian nature scene, with the destroyed robotic arm of the Terminator.

VD: This is probably because when we started working together, we thought it should be a project about a certain idyllic life. Around us at that moment, in the beginning of 90s, it was an especially frightening situation – perestroika, “Russia in fire.” And art was the same, but we were doing an alternative, exactly something like paradise, soft, lyric or maybe on the contrary – sterile, polished, glossy as a magazine cover. And that’s why our characters in the beginning were naked. Our aim was not to shock the public. And about the movies… We also have a lot of work with television monitors in the scenes, with a movie playing. So, it comes out of double representation – one is on the picture, and another on the television monitor. There we were also trying to choose the best shot, the most important moment.

VG: Compared with your previous works, in addition to the surrealistic elements of the plot, Schwarzenegger in one Cadillac with Pushkin and so on, you painted a lot of “special effects” – toys falling from the sky, chocolate bars and a pink Cadillac which literally bursts into the canvas. The visual speed of your painting has been changed.

AV: We went to the children’s store on Broadway, and I had the same feeling as from our painting: standing there was a gigantic moving dinosaur and a house of insane beauty — a Barbie house. Similarly, I felt horrified from the quantity of all these toys.

VD: In some sense we are doing everything more exaggerated. Toys are falling from the sky and there are a lot of them, this is already horrifying. This is the exact moment, when excess of a positive becomes negative. Like you said, with a lot of “special effects”. It is an interesting observation.

VG: It’s just a movie with a much bigger budget.

VD and AV: (giggling) Yes, the budget had been changed.

VD: But I would not be busy with comparing new parts with older parts from our paintings. As Sasha said, we are doing one big project, one big painting, which doesn’t have an end, at least not yet. It had its beginning in 2001, when we did the first part of an exhibition for Bob Wilson. His show and idea was called “Russian Madness”, the main topic was the river Volga.

AV: Let me explain. The distinctive feature of the project is that the picture consists of modules or panels (sized 200×150 cm) and we can exhibit any part of this painting separate or together. The show of this painting, and its different parts, can happen simultaneously and in different places. Also independently of how many separate canvases are in it; it is possible to sell any one canvas out of the whole.

VD: That is to pull out of a text any sentence you like, which is not possible to do without making a contextual break.

AV: The painting exhibited in Deitch Projects consists of thirty-eight canvases but some of them have already been included in conjunction with other paintings, which were exhibited in England and Sao Paolo. Such a story happened: from the painting that exhibited in England: someone bought just the one canvas with the portrait of English Queen Elizabeth II. So for the exhibition at Deitch Projects, we replaced it with another canvas – everything the same, the same dress, but instead of the queen we portrayed the pop star, Madonna.

VG: So it gives to the painting a fashionable tendency, one where the plot can develop in different directions as though the painting actually lives?

AV: And not only is the plot inside the painting, but the development of the painting itself goes in different directions. This way we show the possibility that this project can go into deepness. And if somebody buys the canvas with Madonna, we will insert somebody else in her place. I think it should be Mickey Mouse in the same dress.

VD: Sometime later it would be interesting to collect the whole project together.

VG: But this is a different story altogether. In other words, that reality only exists in that form on the internet where it will be possible to click on one canvas to see another possibility in its place.

VD: Exactly. In the universal web.

VG: At some point you could exhibit the painting with an empty space, in place of a sold canvas, and sell that space, which is the hot point, for a possible order.

VD: Absolutely right! It gives commercial flexibility to the project. This is similar to those mechanisms invented by Warhol, when he was doing silk-screen editions. And here it also starts to work, although in a more manual way.

VG: Perhaps Warhol couldn’t even imagine such an apogee of editions as the phenomena of cloning. In your work there is a double Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and even a double clone, a portrait of the girl-clone from the Diesel advertising campaign.

VD: At some point we decided that we are cloning the painting itself. Painting took a new turn now. At that time in Moscow when we started to paint it was alternative and revolutionary. But then it somehow coincided with the worldwide art machine, that picked up and pulled up painting once again. But we were doing it already for eight years and we immediately fitted in with that mechanism.

VG: So, you vote for the painting as a universal language. You are among 114 of the leading painter practitioners included in the book “Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting”, which provides an international overview of the state of painting today. For you, painting is it a medicine or a vitamin ?

AV: I don’t think there are such artists for whom painting as the medicine still exists.

VD: It is the language we are speaking with. We are not treating ourselves, we are treating others. We are doctors, in contrast with the Moscow conceptual movement where everybody there was from some kind of hospital room, where everybody has a certain sickness. Maybe, of course, to paint a huge canvas – it is also a paranoia.

VG: Well, I don’t think so.

VD: I don’t think so either… We actually don’t think about it, and it means this problem doesn’t exist. It is like that with God – if you think he doesn’t exist – he doesn’t exist, but if you think “yes” – then he exists. When we started, it was clear to everybody that painting was a dead culture, especially in Moscow. We were saying that we weren’t doing paintings, we were doing a “picture”. Because for us “painting” means to invent in the area of “painting”. But in that area everything has already been invented, but not in the area of “picture”. Because at this stage the picture starts to function differently. Not like it was functioning in the era of Rembrant or Dutch genre paintings. Our primary task however, was a creation of hits, not just a picture that gives joy to somebody, hanging in his private cabinet where he would be able to study our dabs with a magnifying glass. The project is changing according to the life around us and to the life we are leading ourselves. Now the life of an artist itself is an artistic project: how he lives, what is he doing, who his friends are, what he drinks and what performances in his everyday life he makes. Now all this has become important and often a documentation of the artist’s life is more interesting, or at least corresponds with what he does in his work. That’s to say artists now are not only perceived as the author of their objects.

VG: Does it mean that nowadays there are no demands for an artist to make a masterpiece as a result of his existence but rather to create his existence as a certain masterpiece in process?

VD: Roughly speaking, if an artist builds and develops his project or develops himself in a right way, that …

AV: … He inevitably will create a masterpiece! But actually I think a “masterpiece” is an old-fashioned word.

VD: I wouldn’t say “masterpiece”, I would say “hit”. Only time is the parameter we don’t have, it could tell us what was a hit and which will be a masterpiece. And our task is the creation of a painting, which becomes a hit and works in this world through magazines, television and the Internet. Although we create nothing in the Internet, we are popular artists in this area. For example, I know one person who downloads from the net and collects portraits of the children from our paintings. And then he hangs them up next to his working table. Painting gives us the possibility to speak about any subject, while actually not all of the artist’s strategies allow him to do so. From my point of view, art of the previous decades is marked by such a phenomena as the dependence of the artist on language and the material with which he works. And our language, maybe it’s a little bit old-fashioned, but it gives us the possibility for more global thinking. We are trying to touch on the real processes and clichés which are peculiar to our time. In a way we are creating a document of our time and its clichés: through Barbie, Schwarzenegger, through movies and songs and then – back into the personal.

VG: When looking at your paintings, one can experience different situations of clichés. It is always a process of connection, like you were saying, a global work. And owing to your paintings there is suddenly an unexpected situation: the contour of horses on the background of a sunset, which American people associate with Marlboro advertising, but for most Russians the association is with the famous movie ” Evasive Revengers”. The same visual image, a cliché in association with different situations, connect even more people together.

VD: Of course.

AV: Our project is very broad in the sense that we are working on paintings as a crew would work on a movie, we do the casting, montage, and choose costumes. We are a combination of everything: directors, cameramen and screenwriters.

VD: Yes, soon we will write the music…

VG: Well, before you start to write music, can we speak about something everybody wants to know – how do you paint together.

VD: You answer.

AV: Why me? I’m always astounded why so many people are interested in it. This is not painting in a traditional sense, we are not deciding problems of color or dabs.

VG: Well, it seems it is impossible to get an answer out of both of you. At least what about the process of dispute, choice of images. By the way, how does it happen technically – where do you find images and do you use a projector or draw images by hand ?

AV: We combine a projector and do free hand drawing, using all mass media resources – glossy magazines, books, television, and also our own photographs. We are always making tons of photographs.

VD: And about discussions – from the very beginning we agreed on how to work out problems of choice. If it would be three of us it would be obvious – by voting. But there are two, so we decided if one principally says “no”, it means “no”. Although practically it never happens. Most likely, when one is in doubt then the other is not so sure of it either. And then we start to argue, sometimes abusing each other, but not often, most times for small things.

VG: In your opinion, in what condition is Russian contemporary art right now? By the way, I have the New York Times article in front of me, where out of the whole Armory Show this year they chose to print your work. So, did you wake up more or less famous?

AV and VG: More or less …

VG: Does it prove the American dream still exists?

VD: We didn’t sense that.

AV: At the door of our hotel the paparazzi weren’t waiting for us …

VD: And about art in Russia, the answer will be short: Russian art now depends on investments. Russia has a chance to occupy its place in the world art market, there are all premises for it. There are good artists, not so many of them, but there is a very big zone, where you can only call … It’s just that these people go to another world, work in the other spheres, but if somebody would support them a little, feed them a little, they will, with pleasure, live on the territory of art. Investments are needed. And they already started coming. In 2004, Moscow will host the Bienniale and the Ministry of Culture provided a decent amount of money for it. That is significant; we together with Sasha organized last year a Festival of Contemporary Art in Moscow only because one person could and gladly agreed to sponsor the project, which for him seemed an absolutely useless event. sexluzern

AV: He provided the venue and money to create pieces of art from 100 artists.

VD: This is a symptom of the situation. We would like to believe it is perspective. This year we will be organizing the Festival again, but not only Moscow artists will participate. There will be artists from around Russia and participants from all over the world including artists and curators from the USA and England.

VG: You are the artists, curators, and I know you also have a gallery.

VD: We have small gallery, its called “Kubometr” which means in Russian “Cubic Meter”. The name speaks for itself – its volume is one cubic meter. This is an experimental gallery, or gallery-idea, where we can quickly and easily organize different kinds of exhibitions and events. Because it’s so mobile it gives us the possibilities without big expenses to realize the projects.

AV: … The most insane and expensive projects!

VD: … Because for a normal gallery some of the projects would be too expensive. For example, the whole gallery space under the water, or something like that, but in our “Kubometr” we can make it cheap and easily enough.

AV: We made this gallery for ourselves.

VD: This is a kind of secret life. Second bottom. Hiding-place.

VG: That is to say your paintings are big and your gallery is small. But they both have a similar idea – one of mobility.

VD: As one of our artist friends said, “art must work”.

Veronika Georgieva is a writer and a film critic. She has written for Premiere, and Moscow based magazines Ptuch and Menu of Pleasures. She also has worked as a stylist for Russian issues of Playboy and Elle. Veronika Georgieva lives in New York City and Moscow.