Alexander Shchurenkov is Challenging Homophobic Cliches in New York
Alexander Shchurenkov. Because of You (Talk to Me), 2016-ongoing. Courtesy of Fragment Gallery
Minimalist and cryptic installations and art objects form an expressive new body of work by millennial artist Alexander Shchurenkov which he has recently unveiled in a solo show in New York's Fragment gallery, motivated by the recent anti-queer legislation in Russia.
It was almost two years ago that the founders of New York's Fragment Gallery, art dealer Sergei Guschin and artist Alexander Shchurenkov (b. 1984) shuttered their contemporary art exhibition space in Moscow and moved to New York City. Despite being at the other side of the world, the infamous decision made by Russia's Supreme Court in November 2023 to proclaim the ´international LGBT movement´ (which does not exist) an ´extremist organization´, came as a huge shock. With hindsight everything was already moving in that direction, and the decision feels like an afterthought to what was in fact a series of oppressive laws passed in recent years. Most significantly ´propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships´ was banned first among minors and then for everyone, rendering illegal almost any depiction or inclusion of queer people in visual art, literature or the theatre. It turns out that homophobic attitudes are on the rise elsewhere as Shchurenkov writes in a gallery text, "The pendulum has swung far right not just in Russia but there are echoes in the USA, revealing ominous signs reminiscent of my earlier life in Russia: the rise of populist anti-LGBTQ+ movements¨.
Shchurenkov's show occupies a newly added second hall at Fragment Gallery which is to be used for more experimental projects. The exhibition's title ´After´ alludes simultaneously to the notion of an afterparty and an afterthought. Having grown up in a small city near Moscow, Shchurenkov knows only too well from painful experience the problems that LGBTQ+ people have to confront on a daily basis in a largely intolerant society. Needing to conceal one´s true identity can often lead to depression, substance abuse or other issues, he says.
In a recently published statement, the Supreme Court in Russia stated without any real basis that what they call the existing international LGBT movement was founded in 1984, for Shchurenkov an irony as it is the year of his birth. It is impossible to divine the source of this seemingly random date, it is in many ways just another stereotype, "There are a lot of cliches concerning queer people: they are promiscuous, that they take illegal drugs, they are always partying", says Shchurenkov.
The artist addresses indirectly the most common stereotypes about queerness through objects and site-specific installations. Minimalist, playful and almost cryptic, they are no tired tropes of drag queen culture. You encounter black velvet drapes that appear to be hiding secret doors, which lead to nowhere. There are items of clothing hanging carelessly from gilded door handles, possibly hinting at orgies and opulence. There are jewellery pendants with Batman and Superman logos and a one-dollar bill that might - or might not - have been used for sniffing cocaine.
For an outsider, these visual innuendoes might seem too vague and aseptic to form any compelling statement. Reflecting on the title with its implied afterparty/afterthought ambiguity you might wonder, was there ever a party – or a thought? Yet there is at least one piece whose message hits the point head-on: a photo strip from one of those instant photo booths showing no-one in the frame. It addresses the all too often scenario where in patriarchal societies people in same-sex relationships are afraid to be photographed together with their partners. "Some queer couples don't have any common pictures at all," Shchurenkov laments. It is a symbol that everyone can relate to. In our age of image overflow, an empty photo tells the story of secrecy and oppression more eloquently than any manifesto: if a picture is worth a thousand words, the absence of a picture is worth even more.
New York City, USA
January 19 – February 17, 2024