The city of Thessaloniki, thanks to the assistance of artBΟΧ and the hospitable welcome of the Second Thessaloniki Contemporary Art Biennale, made possible a meeting of two international projects: first, the ambitious Making Words project conceived by Daniel Birnbaum, the Art Director of the 53rd Venice Biennale, and, second, presentation of a part of the Stella Art Foundation’s collection in an exhibition curated by Thalea Stefanidou at the premises of the National Bank’s Educational Foundation. While contributing to the development of the Greek-Russian friendship, both initiatives also reflect the aspirations of the young Russian capital seeking — not without success — to build its own profile in contemporary art.
Daniel Birnbaum’s words: “Poetry Makes the World” and his ingenious idea of arranging a dynamic participation of poetry and its visual attributes in the core exhibition of this year’s Venice Biennale program didn’t work out well for purely practical reasons having to do with the difficulty of their implementation in an open space.
In a noisy crowd that gathers for the Biennale opening, it is hard for poetry to capture the ear and eye of the audience. Besides, under the bright Venice June sun the intended background of the poetry project — Yula Hadjigeorgiou’s Poets Machine and video projections — were simply “lost”. Meanwhile, in Thessaloniki, the second “stop” in the journey of the Poets Machine after Venice, with the images looking very sharply in the port warehouse environment and being well-coordinated with the sound of the performances, and with excellent video projections, the poetry performances by Russian, Greek and Cypriot poets and the visual presentations arranged by artists Igor Makarevich and Elena Elagina (sculptural installation) and Yula Hadjigeorgiou, worked perfectly.
A pleasant surprise
Although we were already attending it for the second time, the whole event proved to be a pleasant surprise: in a quiet hall we heard poets’ voices clearly, could follow the expressions of their faces and, of course, read texts and see projections on the screen.
The same is true of the main exhibition of Russian — and not only — artists at the premises of the National Bank’s Educational Foundation, scheduled to last till November: it also brings surprises, while at the same time giving some clues for reading the works and educating the audience in a variety of aspects.
Stella Art Foundation is a non-commercial institution established in November 2004 by collector Stella Kesaeva for the promotion of Russian artists and setting up a contemporary art museum in Moscow. Mrs Kesaeva, a spouse of a very wealthy Russian, pursues her activities across the whole Europe, owning a collection of works that she has already presented in Vienna and Venice, with prospects for further shows. It is a good collection that performs a national task, because works of Russian artists interact here with works of their colleagues from other countries, while at the same time it defends the idea of continuing the historical tradition of constructivism.
Curator Thalea Stefanidou did a splendid job of selecting the works and arranaging them in space. The main axis of the exhibition is Stella’s Portrait by Alex Kats, its further point of support is a portrait of certain Alice, or Lolita, a work by Oleg Kulik, as well as a photograph of two female sculptures with a view from behind, by well-known Russian artist Andrei Monastyrsky.
The exhibition talks with irony of the past glory of Russia with images of newspaper pages and drawings by Vagrich Bakhchanian in the Russia Ruin series, reconstructs the absolutely red space of blood and mass graves, makes caustic remarks about the country’s present with works by Nikita Alexeyev, Eugenia Yemets and Alexandra Galkina, and finds explicit of implicit associations between the oeuvre of Joseph Kosuth and that of the Russian artist Alexei Buldakov.
Room of reminiscences
Igor Makarevich and Elena Elagina, a couple of Russian artists, sets up a room of reminiscences next to works by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov who became famous in the West, while photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe also find their counterparts in works by younger generation of Russian artists.
The exhibition defends art, while at the same time selecting works responding to urgent social and political issues. Very interesting, for example, is the tragic work Chanel by Dmitry Tsvetkov — a military overcoat with decorations shown as a specimen of high sewing art and playing on the meaning of the word in the Western context and the Russian culture. As far as we are concerned, the word Chanel brings to memory Coco Chanel and her ideas, and the same happens, I think, to our Russian contemporaries, but the much similar word shinel means something as entirely different as a military greatcoat in the Russian language.