at the turn of the century
at the Museum of Odessa Modern Art
Whatever the name of this state, one of its cities called Odessa has always been unlike the rest, different in its style ,its citizens, and certainly its culture. Art was no exception.
The tradition of Odessa, its cultural myth that combined intellect and cosmopolitanism with goodness, humour and tolerance largely determined the particular qualities of Odessa painting, broadening the horizon of the artists, endowing their works with Southern charm, European luster and a kind of chamber elegance.
In late 19th century the best masters of the Society of South-Russian Artists –Kiriak Kostandi, Tit Dvornikov, Pyotr Nilus and their disciples , those who carried on the Wanderers’ ideas in their modernized version – educated generations of gifted painters and formulated the principles of the artistic tradition of Odessa.
Along with the successful development of classic painting, avant-garde was always a natural art style in Odessa. Its “Odessa nature” is confirmed by the biographies of young painters who lived in Odessa in early 20th century, by the history of exhibitions held here, and the names that belong to the world culture – V.Kandinsky, V. Baranov-Rossine, the Burliuk brothers, T. Fraerman, A. Exter, N.Altman,etc. The members of avant-garde groups added new blood to the classic school, and Odessa’s modern art was born.
Stalinism “ twisted the brushes” of ones and made others forget “the errors of their youth”. Fortunately, it wasn’t a long-lived victory. The press of ideology only slowed down the progress. Renascence was predestined. The death of “the leader of all nations” brought it closer.
In the 1960s discontent in the Soviet society was changing the ideas about the approach to creative art. Underground art, later referred to by the term that became traditional – non-conformism, began to form in Odessa as it did in Moscow and Leningrad.
At its early stage unofficial art in Odessa was apolitical. The main criterion in the evaluation of an artist’s work was the formal refinement of the artistic language, the originality of composition, the expressiveness of colour and light.
A lot of what was created by the nonconformists in Odessa had already been developed in the first half of the 20th century by their great predecessors – the modernists in the West and in Russia (including Odessa). The information vacuum prevented Odessans from taking full advantage of these discoveries and made them repeat the way on their own; their individuality was determined by their talent. For them, for the culture of Odessa, and for the whole of the USSR this art was vanguard. Thus in the 1960s and 70s ‘the second wave of the Odessa avant-garde’ appeared.
Mostly, these painters had no access to official exhibition halls. The way out of the situation was found in the so-called “apartment exhibitions” held in the artists’ studios or in their friends’apartments. Besides the artists from the nonconformist group (named so by Ludmila Yastreb) “apartment exhibitions” involved virtually all the artists in Odessa who had works that didn’t fit into the Soviet norms, whether the artist was a member of the Union of Soviet artists or not.
These apartment or studio exhibitions weren’t clubby events, inaccessible for outsiders. They were meetings that became live cultural centres of their day, they triggered new artistic impulses and trends, started new collections and galleries.
Revolutionary changes in the Soviet Society that began in 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power brought qualitative changes in the state’s information and cultural policy. The organization barriers that limited “the masses’creativity” disappeared. Art beyond the framework and regulations of the Union of Artists became possible. It was between the late 1980s and the early 1990s that new names which were to become popular at the turn of the century appeared in the Odessa art crowd.
It was no longer socialist realism which by that time was as good as a myth, but modernism which hadn’t been given the time to develop in the USSR legally, that was the aim of the young artists’critical search. The new generation regarded the world with punk irony. The disappearing absurd reality of” the developed socialism” with the overbearing simulacra it had engendered accelerated the advent of the post-modernism era.
As early as 1982, in the midst of the Odessa underground there appeared a movement later called “the Odessa conceptual school”. At its initial stage, the Odessa conceptualists’art existed in a hippy disguise. The meetings of their crowd resulted in a series of joint works, performances, collective street actions.
Then the Odessans established contacts with conceptualists in Moscow and an artistic exchange between the two cities: art groups from Moscow came to Odessa and participated in local actions, and Odessans took part in a number of exhibitions in Moscow. After a “shuttle” period between Moscow and Odessa in the late 1980s almost all those involved settled in Moscow and played an important role in the artistic situation there.
Unfortunately, when the main group of conceptualists left for Moscow, and then fanned out all over the world, the development of this art trend in Odessa virtually came to a stop. An interest to their art and ideas reappeared only in the beginning of the next millennium.
In the late 1980s there appeared in Odessa a constellation of young artists oriented towards the transformed ideas of Italian trans-avant-garde that the young Alexander Roitburd brought from Kiev. – References to great predecessors, a synthesis of various stylistic traditions and a half-ironic, half-respectful attitude to classic painting logically triumphed in Odessa.
Unlike other post-modernist trends, “the South-Russian trans-avant-garde” came to Odessa to stay, and became a visiting card of this city’s art in the 1980s and 90s. It had a substantial influence on the 21st century style; numerous artists’ contemporary works, including those exhibited at this Museum, testify to that.
The Museum of Odessa Modern Art was created on the 10th of April 2008 by a young businessman, intellectual and patron of the arts, V.Morokhovsky. It is based on the renowned collector M.Knobel’s unique collection of the masters of the second wave of the Odessa avant-garde. This collection has been considerably enlarged and complemented with other authors’works. At present the MоOMA exhibits the art of leading painters and sculptors of Odessa of the turn of the 21st century.
The pride of the Museum are the halls dedicated to the non-conformist art of Odessa; a special hall dedicated to the legendary “fence”exhibition of Valentin Khrushch and Stanislav Sychev that laid the foundation, in 1967, of the history of exhibitions which couldn’t be allowed in the USSR, and a reproduction of an apartment exhibition of the 1970s nonconformists.
No less interesting are the halls that reflect the revolutionary events in the art of Odessa in the 1980s and 90s : the formation within the Odessa underground of a group of conceptualists and of “South-Russian trans-avant-garde”.
A deep aesthetic satisfaction will,no doubt, be provided to our visitors by the halls dedicated to the first Soviet abstractionist of Odessa , the artist and dissident Oleg Sokolov, to the emergence of the Odessa school and to its leader Yuri Yegorov.
The exhibition of the 21st century art confirms the well-known truth about life going on: new artists with new ideas and new subjects appear in Odessa. They are capable of winning fame for this city.
See also virtual tour of the Museum