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Wrestling Priests, Executed Madeleines
The Vadim Zakharov Retrospective at the Tretjakov Gallery in Moscow

Vadim Zakharov and Ariane Grigoteit, Director of Deutsche Bank Art,
at the opening of "25 Years on One Page" at the Tretjakow Gallery

Huge filing folders contain an archive of the history of modern Russian art. In Vadim Zakharov’s room installation, exhibition visitors can find information on the development of Russian art ranging from the Constructivists to his own personal artist friends. His History of Russian Art from the Avant-garde to the Moscow School of Conceptualism , made in 2003, resembled a summary of the exhibition Russia! shown late last year at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, a large-scale overview of Russian art from its beginnings to the present day. The fact that Zakharov’s own work was included in the exhibition hardly comes as a surprise; following a twenty-year career, he is celebrated internationally as a major contemporary Russian artist. Now, the Tretjakov Gallery in Moscow, one of Russia’s most important museums, is giving the 1959-born artist a large retrospective; Zakharov is the first member of his generation to be honored in this way. The show, titled 25 Years on One Page, is being sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

Vadim Zakharov: Executionchairs of Love, 2004,
Courtesy Galerie Schüppenhauer, Köln

Taking place under the auspices of the Russian Cultural Ministry, the exhibition marks Zakharov’s arrival at the center of his home country’s official culture. Yet he began his art career in the underground scene of the Moscow Conceptualists. This group of artists and writers, which included Ilya Kabakov and Vladimir Sorokin, for instance, was active in the Russian capital since the seventies. At a distance from the state-sponsored culture, they radically carried on the tradition of the Russian avant-garde and formed a network that organized private exhibitions and readings.

Their works, which were often bristling with irony, simultaneously turned against official state art, the moral tendencies of dissident art, and the utopian visions of the Russian avant-garde. "We played records with Brezhnev’s party speeches and danced to them. We parodied the television news. It was pretty exciting," as Vladimir Sorokin describes the atmosphere in the Moscow underground in the seventies.

Vadim Zakharov’s role as archivist of this scene is inseparable from his role as an artist. Building autonomous structures to produce and show his art and that of his colleagues has always been crucial to him. This remained the case even after he settled in Cologne in 1990. Pastor , the magazine he publishes, serves as a platform for artist friends, writers, and philosophers from his home country; together with other fellow Russian artists, he curated the exhibition Invitation to an Execution in the Schüppenhauer Gallery in Cologne. "Gradually, Zakharov has come to fill every slot the system of contemporary art has to offer: artist, curator, critic, publisher, biographer, archivist, documentary filmmaker, historian, and interpreter," as the critic Boris Groys formulated it in the catalogue text to the Moscow exhibition.

Vadim Zakharov Erste Korrektur zu Marcel Proust,
Courtesy Galerie Schüppenhauer, Köln

With more than 60 works, the show at the Tretjakov Gallery offers a comprehensive overview of Vadim Zakharov’s works since 1978 – ranging from the black and white photographs recording his first performances through the videos in which he documented exhibitions of Russian artists in the West throughout the nineties to current installations such as Execution Chairs of Love from 2004. With its dark sense of humor, this work combines the themes of torture and love. A black rug leads the exhibition visitor to a wooden throne with a rosebush underneath it whose point is sticking out through a hole in the seat. In ancient China, people sentenced to death were shackled to similar chairs under which a bamboo plant was placed whose rapidly growing branches soon began boring into the doomed individual. At the same time, however, the throne is also reminiscent of an old-fashioned toilet. In the photo and video work Funny and Sad Adventures of a Stupid Pastor (1996), the artist, dressed in a floor-length priest’s garb, enters a wrestling match with an almost naked Japanese Sumo wrestler; in the performance The Killing of the Sandcake Madeleine - A Correction to Marcel Proust, Proust’s famous Madeleine is sentenced to death by firing squad. Even if Zakharov’s works, which have helped him to establish a unique position in Russian contemporary art, at first seem disparate, they all have at least one thing in common – ironic discontinuities and a dark, dark humor.

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