Art in the City: Rebels Then and Now 

Artists Against the State: Perestroika Revisited, Columbia University School of the Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition

Artists Against the State: Perestroika Revisited
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

31 Mercer St, SoHo

Though we may be familiar with Russian Constructivism and the burly figures of Soviet Realism, most of us are a bit fuzzy on the rest of 20th-century Russian art history, probably because the Soviet Union widely suppressed unofficial art in the post-war period. This massive show at Ronald Feldman is devoted to the underground art that only came to light during Gorbachev’s Perestroika in the late 1980s. The Nonconformist art includes cheeky figurative paintings — such as Komar & Melamid’s Portrait of Ronald Reagan as Centaur — along with found object assemblages, text pieces, and sculptures. Some of the highlights are Nikolai Kozlov’s assemblages of toy weapons and furniture pieces, Grisha Bruskin’s 15 white statuettes of Russian caricatures, Eric Bulatov’s paintings of dramatically angular slogans, and Yuri Avvakumov’s delicate prints of red architectural plans on newspaper. With saturated colors and Constructivist-influenced forms, the works speak eloquently of political frustration and desperation.

Columbia University School of the Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition
20 Jay St, DUMBO

The Columbia MFA program has developed a reputation for being both the most expensive program of its kind, and a reliable factory for new art stars. Given its direct pipeline to Chelsea, students are willing to spend $80,000 on tuition for a chance at instant success (the Yale MFA being a $60,000 bet with similar odds). So how promising is this year’s batch? Well, the video artists steal the show. Tamy Ben-Tor, who’s already found commercial success, screens an outrageous video satire of her professor Rikrit Tiravanija, while Ronnie Bass’ video installation Our Land charms with a similar cheekiness, and Tommy Hartung offers a glacially paced sci-fi tale. But the bulk of the show is kitschy, figurative painting, which is the Columbia trademark. To make representational painting seem more edgy the students fixate on gross or glaringly tacky subjects, such as a statuette of an eagle or the cheap siding of a prefab house, and put down gooey layers of muddy paint. These paintings might appeal to buyers, but they offer little else than a nod to current fashions.


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