Now in its second year, the bi-annual festival Russian Art Week in London is to open on November 22. It will launch with the first UK solo exhibition of twentieth century artist Boris Chetkov at Westbury Hotel in Mayfair.
In the run up to the 2014 UK/Russia Year of Culture, the festival hopes to provide an education in Russian art beyond the avant-garde. Russian Art Week in London founder Theodora Clarke claims this is the genre most art historical programmes in the United Kingdom focus on which, as she explained to ARTINFO UK, she believes to be an exposure problem: “the Russian artists that are most well known here, like [Wassily] Kandinsky and [Marc] Chagall, all worked in the west – that’s why they’re so well-known here. In fact, when they’re sold in Russian sales they’re not even classified as Russian art.” She also highlights another problem: “I believe the language barrier is also an issue, as there is not a lot of information about Russian artists in English.” Exhibitions featured in the festival will range from contemporary art in “Dear Art” at Calvert 22 to an exhibition of traditional Orthodox icons at Jan Morsink Ikonen.
The festival comes at a time of clashes between Russian art and the country’s political problems. The most high profile of these is the recent disappearance of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the imprisoned member of activist performance art group Pussy Riot. However, Clarke was keen to assert that the festival would avoid engaging too much with this: “[the story of] Pussy Riot has captured the world’s imagination, but the exhibitions in Russian Art Week won’t have such overt political connotations.”
Another highly contentious issue is the location of next year’s Manifesta Biennial in St Petersburg. A petition on Change.org is calling for the biennial to be relocated, in protest of Russia’s homophobic “gay-gag” laws. At the time of writing, the petition has 1,925 signatures. Clarke disagrees with this protest, claiming that it could hinder the very cross-cultural exchange that she is trying to promote: “I think they should definitely host [the biennale] in St Petersburg. One of the best ways to tackle prejudice is to encourage debate, and having Manifesta [in Russia] will definitely encourage debate and openness. It will really open Russia up to the west.”
Russia Art Week in London, various locations, 22 to 29 November