has just returned from the 53rd Venice Biennale that has
transformed Venezia into some beautiful open-air museum: Some countries
occupy the large modernist pavilions in the lush giardini
or in the enormous loft-like buildings of the Arsenale
(Venice's ancient shipyard and once the largest in the world),
while others find a home in the various palazzi, squares,
and open spaces around the city.
were particularly taken by the Russian Pavilion whose theme Victory
over the Future was in such marked contrast with the city
surrounding it, where Tintoretto's house, the grand palaces from the
15th and 16th century and the languorous winding canals draw
one's gaze ever towards the past. Having shaken off an often
didactic and brutalist Soviet tradition, the work displayed
sophistication and a remarkable diversity of ideas.
Molodkin's two glass sculptures representing Nike of Samothrace
and titled Le Rouge et le Noir (one thinks of Stendhal's
1830 novel) are a perfect symbol for the pavilion: confident and
bold appropriations of conceptualist art. One of the figures
is filled with red liquid, the other black -- blood and oil --
brought together in one single image in a video projected on a
screen, questioning perhaps the price at which oligarchs have
achieved power in the New Russia and on the ambiguous nature of
Pepperstein watercolor from Landscapes of the Future, 2009
polymath Pavel Pepperstein, who is also a novelist and rap
musician, filled an entire room inside the pavilion with a series
of colorful and skillfully-executed watercolors, both childlike
and sophisticated, titled Landscapes of the Future.
Light-on-their-feet geometric forms and other shapes that recall Moscow
Conceptualism and Suprematism push up into futuristic
landscapes. The artist sets the works to Stravinsky's The
Rite of Spring -- a groundbreaking futuristic piece when it
was composed in 1913 -- spliced with his own rap
composition. Pepperstein's brazen re-appropriation of the
old Russian avant-garde points towards a more open and free
society, a victory over the past perhaps, as well as the future.
Santiago Calatrava's recent clever update of the Venetian bridge
(glass and Istrian marble) at the Piazzale Roma, Molodkin
and Pepperstein have taken images and concepts from the past and
fashioned something distinctly modern and hopeful, an artistic
rebuke to the Russia of Putin et Cie.