Nevalyashka Dolls, produced from 1958. Courtesy GRAD and Moscow Design Museum.
Sophie Hill of Postcardwall interviews Elena Sudakova of GRAD.
You began the gallery GRAD (Gallery for Russian Art & Design) last year; what were you main drives for opening a Russian gallery in London?
I was particularly aware that Russian art, especially Russian avant-garde art which had a worldwide influence, was misrepresented here in London – the very city which, at the moment, is the world art center and where you have a chance to encounter any kind of art.
GRAD is a gallery named specifically for design as well as art; why was it equally important to name design within the gallery’s mission?
Many of our historical shows are linked to the Constructivist movement which strived to move art beyond only aesthetics and apply practical purpose to it. They did not succeed exactly, but this is how Soviet design was born. One cannot seriously consider showing important twentieth-century Russian art without also reflecting on the design aspect.
‘Star-54’ Radio, 1954. Courtesy GRAD and Moscow Design Museum.
TAINT was your first exhibition to incorporate contemporary Russian art; following three historical exhibitions, do you think it’s important to understand the context of Russia’s art history to read Russian art being produced now?
I think it is very important for contemporary artists to be aware of all the socio-political changes happening at present, which would be impossible without knowing the history of your own country.
Having worked in both Moscow and London, do any particular differences strike you between emerging or popular artists in each city?
Unfortunately, there is not yet a sufficiently developed social system in Russia which would allow emerging artists to fully grow and mature. Young artists are really struggling and are looking for any kind of financial opportunity in order to go abroad. At the moment the traditional scheme of artist-dealer-gallery-collector-museum is not functioning in Russia.
‘Tula’ Sewing Machine, produced from 1955 to early 1980s. Courtesy GRAD and Moscow Design Museum.
Less is perhaps more commonly known about Russian art before the turn of the 19th and 20th Century; is this a gap you intend to fill? What other areas of Russian art history do you see being neglected?
For quite a long period of time, Russian art history was almost monopolized by commercial institutions which were driven by the needs of the art market. To be fair, that was the only way to promote Russian Art as the country was isolated from the rest of the world for almost a century. However, it resulted in a very one-sided version of Russian art history circulating abroad and a lot of important artists and trends are still ignored due to the absence of their works on the market. For example, the Ballet Russes have received a wide recognition in Europe while such important figures like Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov and Mikhail Vrubel who were hugely influential at the time are still practically unknown in the West. We hope to be able to fill in such obvious gaps.
Your next exhibition Work and Play behind the Iron Curtain follows a time in Russian history that was teeming artistically, much of the work fuelled by revolutionary ideas. Design was often government driven, blurring the lines between expression and propaganda; do you think this pushed Russian artists further in their practice?
‘Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain’ will focus on the mass-produced manufacturing and consumer goods which reflected the spirit of their times starting from the late 1930s up until the 1980s. Until the 1950s there was a focus on military and technological advances, but during Khrushchev’s leadership, the focus shifted towards consumer goods, leading to an increased importance for product design as a profession.
Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain is on at GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, 20 June – 24 August 2014. Visit www.grad-london.com for more information.
Postcard 352 is a film poster from GRAD’S exhibition KINO/FILM, Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen.