"I’m a Culture Junkie"
with Vadim Zakharov
Over the past
25 years, the Russian artist Vadim Zakharov has created a highly
diversified work that is bound together by a kind of dark humor. This
year, he’s the first Russian artist of his generation to be honored in a
one-person show at Moscow’s Tretjakov Gallery. Zakharov is also part of
the exhibition series Blind
Date, which presents new acquisitions to the Deutsche
Bank Collection. Jutta v. Zitzewitz met with the artist in
Cologne and talked with him over Georgian cheesecake and Russian tea about
Sumo wrestlers, stolen cassocks, and shot madeleines.
Vadim Zakharov in his studio, Photo
Jutta v. Zitzewitz
Zakharov readily admits to being a romantic.
Indeed, you could almost think you’re in Spitzweg’s
room when you climb the creaking stairs leading up to his attic workspace
in a turn-of-the-century building in Cologne: books piled up to the
ceiling, two desks, a threadbare seating arrangement – an environment that
suggests a writer’s den more than an artist’s studio.
Cult Control, Kafka, Detail einer
7teiligen Fotoarbeit n. d., Deutsche Bank Collection
His love for the written word has been accompanying him
since the 80s, when Zakharov began his career in the circle of Moscow
Conceptualists surrounding Ilya
Kabakov and Vladimir
Sorokin. In 1990, the artist, archivist, collector, curator,
publisher, and book designer emigrated to Cologne. He’s worked with almost
every conceivable form of expression ranging from painting, photography,
and video to book art, performance, and installation. Last year, his
installation History of Russian Art from the Russian Avant-Garde to the
Moscow Conceptualists(2004) attracted considerable attention in the
at the Guggenheim
Museum in New York. Vadim Zakharov has just been honored in a Deutsche
Bank-sponsored retrospective at Moscow’s Tretjakov
Gallery, titled 25
Years on One Page.
Zakharov and Dr. Ariane Grigoteit, Director Deutsche Bank Art,
the opening of "25 Years On One Page" in the Tretjakow Galerie
There’s a method to Zakharov’s multiple roles and the great
heterogeneousness of his work. Both a vanishing point and a means of
self-protection, they become a strategy for assuming power that turns
against the contemporary art establishment, whose interpretations
increasingly subsume artists’ works. By gradually occupying every
available niche in the production and dissemination of art, he strives for
a new, direct relationship between the artist and viewer that ultimately
aims to abolish the principle of authorship in its multiplicity of chosen
Cult Control, Tolstoi, Detail einer
7teiligen Fotoarbeit n. d.,Deutsche Bank Collection
Jutta v. Zitzewitz: Over the years, you’ve created a highly
idiosyncratic artistic universe that has assumed a number of different
forms. You’ve worked as an artist, publisher, archivist, historian, and
collector. How do all these functions interrelate?
Zakharov: I think any professional contemporary artist should try to
combine several different directions. With me, that happened sort of
naturally. I have been a book designer since the early 80s as well as a
collector, and I’ve had this obsession with archives since the beginning.
These different pursuits have run parallel to my own artistic production.
Over the years, I’ve come to implement all these roles very consciously.
That’s how I spread myself out, so to speak. It’s a way of keeping the
dialogue with myself alive.
Funny and Sad Adventures of the Foolish Pastor, Adventure No. 3, 1996, (c)
Your art is also centered
around your own persona. In the past, you have played the dwarf, the
one-eyed author, the owner of the Madame Schlyuz ballet school, etc. The
most famous role is the "Foolish Pastor Zond from Cologne," a character
situated somewhere between tragedy and comedy, very much like Don
Quixote. What was your initial idea when you created that character?
the characters you’ve mentioned represent different positions that are
important to me. The pastor was the latest role; I don’t think there will
be any more masks for me after that. It started in 1992, when I founded
the magazine Pastor, shortly after I had come to the West, but it
took three more years for the pastor to materialize as a real character.
The black cassock comes from the church of St. Peter in Cologne; it
belonged to Pater Mennekes, who runs the Kunststation
St. Peter. It was funny, because he didn’t know that I took it …
stole his cassock?!?
In a way, yes [laughs]. I went to St.
Peter to ask him for a cassock, but he wasn’t there, so his assistant just
gave one to me. I used it in a performance in Japan, for the Funny and
Sad Adventures of the Foolish Pastor, the episode when the Pastor
fights with a Sumo wrestler and loses. The fight was recorded on video. At
the Venice Biennial in
2001, I presented stills from that video on scrolls (Theological
Conversations). Pater Mennekes came along and asked me if I was the
artist and whether I could explain the meaning of the piece. I asked him
if he recognized the cassock and told him the whole story. He was very
amused. Right now, we’re collaborating on an exhibition that will be shown
at the Kunststation St. Peter.