He Has Form
Around Berkeley Square is a little piece of Londongrad. Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the Evening Standard, has an office off the square on Hill Street. Waterstone’s, with its five storey flagship store on nearby Piccadilly (check out that view from the fifth floor bar!), is owned by Yeltsin’s friend Alexander Mamut. Also on Piccadilly is the Russian food shop and café Caviar House & Prunier. Oligarch and restaurateur Arkady Novikov’s eponymous brasserie is on Berkeley Street. Opposite Novikov is London’s finest contemporary Russian art gallery Erarta. With a penchant for private views, Lavender’s Blue report from Erarta’s latest show.
Structure by David Plaksin celebrates the artist’s fascination with graphic design and photography. A new body of work, it also represents his artistic sensitivity toward visual objects with strong associative potential. Plaksin graduated from the prestigious Serov Leningrad Art College in 1957 and from 1975 onwards he was part of the Leningrad Gorkoma artistic movement. In 1980 he became an active member of the Union of Russian Artists which allowed him to join the National Federation of Artists a decade later. Despite his membership of various groups, Plaksin does not align himself with any one group of St Petersburg artists. His atypical experimentation with various painting media allows for a constant rebirth of form and content over the course of his long career.
In addition to his ongoing engagement with oil and tempura, during the Soviet era, Plaksin worked as a book designer and illustrator. He drew typography by hand, cutting and gluing shapes together to create graphic compositions. The material quality of language continues to interest the 77 year old artist. Language for him is aural, oral, cultural, visual, literal and metaphorical. It’s part of socio political history. Letters can be objects just as words and concepts can be abraded beyond their original meaning. His overriding interest in representation, semblance, transformation and ultimately meaning has led him to fuse form and subject. In Structure, calligraphy is magnified to architecture and architecture is reduced to pattern. His ten monochromatic and five polychromatic digital prints onto aluminium line the walls of Erarta.
A 20 piece artwork called Sankt-Petro-Lenin-Burg spells out the hyphenated history of St Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad and prior to that, Petrograd, before returning to its original name in 1991. The names and evocations of the city are used to depict both urban and national identity. The Communist buildings which form the basis of Plaksin’s Architecture series were built to represent strength and power. But he breaks them apart. Brutalist, Constructivist and Stalinist buildings take on a decorative role. The lattice-like framework of built form is raised, rotated, made transparent and overlaid. Approximations of letterforms appear, their apparent alphabetic simplicity belying ever intensifying depth of meaning.
Erarta’s flagship, the Museum of Contemporary Russian Art, is housed in a late Stalinist classical building of palatial proportions in St Petersburg. Buildings, like letters, tell stories. This one says Soviet era in its rustication and rows of columns but above the parapet electric red lettering proclaims E-R-A-R-T-A. A new era, a new use, a new name. Indoors, simple white walls and lighting allow the art to speak without interruption. The Erarta Museum is the largest private museum of contemporary art in Russia, exhibiting over 2,000 works by 150 artists across five floors. Erarta Galleries, already established in London, New York, Zürich and St Petersburg, are opening in Hong Kong in 2013.