Public art on Red Square
Contemporary art rarely appears on Moscow’s main square, which is rightly considered a landmark. The large-scale objects in the ‘Red Garden’ exhibition have opened a new page in the history of this symbolic place.
Even at the height of summer, as the Kremlin chimes sound, the Red Square could hardly be described as a welcoming place. The vast, empty space is designed to impose; to reduce the individual to their appropriate size in relation to the vastness of Russia and its history. And despite the skating rink that appears there each winter, it would rarely be thought of as playful, either; the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb too severe, the GUM shopping centre too grand, to be anything other than serious.
The GUM-Red-Line Gallery, which this July opened the first display of public art on the square, appears to challenge these expectations; to carve out a place for play and experimentation in this unlikely environment. Headed by Igor Kazakov, the ‘Red Garden’ exhibition - the gallery’s second festival, delayed for a year, because of the pandemic - has brought together eight Russian artists to create large-scale sculptures that stand alongside the wall of the shopping centre. The only brief was to respond to the concept of “garden” - and the pieces are eclectic; encompassing, in the words of curators Marina Fedorovskaya and Anton Kochurkin, “land art, conceptualism, media art, postmodernism, surrealism, abstraction (and) interactive installations”.
Walking onto the Square from direction of Tverskaya Street, the visitor first comes across Aristarkh Chernyshev’s (b. 1968) ‘Big Head from Ancient Times’ in synthetic material, modelled on the face of Alexander the Great, lying on its side as if in ruin. A circle of light, like a ‘loading’ symbol of a computer screen, spins where the features should be. Whatever the symbolism of the work, it was likely ignored by the young girl climbing on top of the sculpture on a recent weekday afternoon, as her father looked on. Further is Vasilisa Prokopchuk and Evgeny Bragin’s ‘Impassible Wood’, where children were also running through dangling branches, hung from a metal frame. By the entrance to GUM are Nikolay Polissky’s (b. 1957) soaring wooden ‘Column’; Dmitry Aske’s (b. 1985) colourful ‘After Makosh’, named aver the Slavic goddess of women and feminine trades; and Roman Ermakov’s (b. 1985) ‘Stable Composition’, made up of abstract shapes, which could be read as peas in a pod. Rinat Voligamsi’s (b. 1968) metal ‘Star’; Andrey Filippov’s (b. 1959) angular ‘Gnomon’; and Dmitry Zhukov’s (b. 1972) ominous, forged steel ‘French de Sad’ make up the set. The works themselves are pleasingly varied, as is the audience reaction: for some, the exhibition is a display of contemporary art, for others, a backdrop for selfies, and for others still, a playground.
Inside the shopping centre, GUM-Red-Line is running a simultaneous exhibition of Nikolay Polissky’s works, his first solo show in Moscow. Named ‘Russian Antiquity’, the gallery display includes video documentation of performances held at the landscape art festival Archstoyanie, which has been running for 16 years every summer at the Nikola-Lenivets Art Park in Kaluga Region. In GUM, too, the art challenges the conventions of the space: Within the mall’s modern, geometric layout, Polissky’s organic, wooden sculptures, with their connotations of ancient times, create a strong impression.
When the ‘Red Garden’ exhibition closes in September, the sculptures will be distributed between Nikola-Lenivets and public and residential spaces in Moscow. But it is perhaps together, on the Red Square, where their impact will be most keenly felt.