Curator's Vision
Aleksander Borovsky,
art critic, curator,
head of The Department of Contemporary Art of The State Russian Museum
The Russian Museum's Beyond the Establishment is an inclusive project in the literal sense of the word (from the Latin inclūdō, "I include"). Inclusion contains socio-psychological and adaptive aspects. We have a different goal: we want to showcase these artists' involvement in the artistic process. And we hope that this exhibition will bring some new colors to the palette of cultural experiences.

This exhibition is not about art therapy. Many institutions are professionally engaged in art therapy, using, among other things, art mediation, visual arts, and handicrafts. Restoring behavioral norms through all these media is a good thing. But we want to show not norms, but breakthroughs, how people overcome life circumstances, and the burden of mental disabilities.

The Russian Museum has more than once exhibited contemporary artists working with primitive and naïve art, such as Vladlen Gavrilchik, Arkady Petrov, Lyusya Voronova, Katya Medvedeva, and Matt Lamb. But the artists in this exhibition do not reflect upon the naïve or any other type of consciousness. They live within their own consciousness. It may seem to be of an altered nature, but for these artists, it is their own. We must bear this in mind.

From time immemorial, art has dealt with altered states of consciousness and, at some point, began to free itself from paternalism with respect to its bearers: anonymous artists. Kazimir Malevich understood the dual position of these artists in society and in their profession. He called this position "behind the back": "Behind all the Titians and Rubenses, behind the Itinerants (Peredvizhniki), behind the Impressionists, and behind us – Cubists, Futurists and Suprematists – they [the bearers of this altered consciousness – A.B.] were invisible." Paul Klee was more radical. As early as 1912, he wrote: "When it comes to reforming contemporary art, the works of the insane should actually be taken much more seriously than anything that is presented in art museums."

Nevertheless, for a long time, contemporary art perceived the "other" type of artistic thinking only as a source from which means of expression could be derived. The process of equal treatment was launched in the middle of the 20th century by Jean Dubuffet and his art brut. At the same time, the "linguistic existence" (Boris Gasparov) of terms was already lagging behind the axiology of culture.
Ilgar Nadzhafov "Points-to-multipoint", 2016

Art brut ("rough, raw"), raw art, marginal art: these terms are gradually vanishing from the modern discourse; they seem to diminish the significance of the phenomenon. In 1972, Roger Cardinal introduced the term outsider art, the most conventional today, although it is used somewhat differently in the United States and Europe. In the United States, this concept includes, in addition to the works of naïve and self-taught artists, folk art, the art of various ethnic and professional groups, and even children, while the term has a more social connotation in Europe and is applied to the art of people with mental and behavioral disabilities. However, some practitioners working with the art of outsiders also perceive the term outsider art in connotations of discrimination or subordination, even though many stars of contemporary art are recruited from outsider art (Henry Darger, Charles Dellschau, Jesse Howard), or, perhaps, precisely because of this.

In other words, the terminological issue remains open. For now, let us call the participants in this exhibition "artists beyond the establishment."
This much, at least, is certain: neither the artists themselves nor the specialists who work with them consider the exhibited works as objects of the art market.
The exhibition features six artists. They are people of different fates.

Yulia Kosulnikova is an amazing chronicler of her own life. Yuri Lotman wrote about the separation between the text and its author, and that each type of culture develops its own models of "people without a biography" and people who have "earned the right to a biography" by defending freedom of choice, overcoming behavioral stereotypes, etc. But in the case of Kosulnikova, the text and the author are not separated. By the text, we mean a wide range of her drawings in felt-tip pen, gouache, and works in mixed media. Hospital corridors, operating rooms, emergency rooms, other penitentiary spaces: this is what she shows in her works, and this is her life. Even sketching something "from the TV", Kosulnikova turns to subjects close to her own experience. Apparently, the artist's present reality coincides with this spectrum. This is quite the "right to a biography"!

Moreover, these are very personal works. In connection with the narrative of this lifelong series, it would be appropriate to bring up Michel Foucault's theme of control and institutions that supervise and discipline living reality. But the fact is that Kosulnikova does not comprehend reality from the perspective of "disciplinary actions." She does not perceive things from the outside at all; once again, she lives in this environment. And she is deeply interested in this life. Everything is important to her: how people stand on crutches, how the lamps in operating rooms are arranged, how a person moves in a wheelchair.

Kosulnikova has a very peculiar drawing style. She draws spaces with almost engineering precision, sometimes in complicated angles. At the same time, figures are captured very faithfully: not in anatomical terms, but in gestures and positions. And, lastly, color. For her, these localized blemishes, which often do not coincide with shape, are a sign of vitality. Certain connections arise between spaces, their inhabitants, and various objects and colors, and Kosulnikova is able to convey her deep interest in them to us as well. She certainly deserves her right to have a creative biography.

Julia Kosulnikova, Untitled, 2017
Aleksey Sakhnov is also committed to portraying spatial relationships. He has a large series of drawings in colored pencil and ballpoint pen that depict various kinds of interiors: small-sized rooms, public halls, toilets. The nature of the drawing gives away the author's emotional mood: sometimes monotonous, almost mechanical markings of space, and other times, chaotic arabesques. In general, this element of the procedural nature of drawing, the unwillingness to break away and let the piece float freely, is a sign of an "alternative" artistic and mental horizon. However, Sakhnov is quite concentrated: both linear-geometric and repetitive vortex movements are not a sign of sublimation, but a method of shaping. He builds spaces and fills them with a certain emotional content so thick that the dashed mass sometimes "sprouts" with human figures: the inhabitants of these infernal spaces.

The spatial and architectural ambition of Sakhnov's interior drawings transitions into the explicit modeling of objects. The artist builds houses from cardboard and other discarded materials: some with densely painted walls, others with plastic windows, behind which a kind of hidden life is implied.

Aleksey Sakhnov, Untitled

Curiously, both Kosulnikova and Sakhnov depict what are called public areas. I believe the two artists are united by the desire to somehow paint, personify, and create biographies on public space, "nobody's space," through their work.

Kosulnikova is attracted to a variety of devices like modern lamps, operating room equipment, medical chairs. Aleksey Barov shares this interest: he sculpts his version of tools and machines using modelling putty. The shapes are literally soft: they are fluid, plastic, and have no strength calculations. They are far from their prototypes, but they are not biomorphic art either. They are tools, but without any technology or, perhaps, functionality. Barov's sculptures (and Sakhnov's architecture) are paradoxically reflected in the "soft sculptures" of Claes Oldenburg and some works of the Fluxus group.

Alexey Barov "Chainsaws"
If we recall Foucault's "disciplinary controls" (at least in a polemical way) when talking about the interiors of Kosulnikova and Sakhnov, then no such controls come to mind when looking at the works of Ilgar Nadzhafov. This is a free-flight fantasy artist. His drawings are connected to reality, but in their own unexpected, phantasmagoric way. Nadzhafov gives names to his works that echo everyday life: "Irina Leonidovna in Staraya Ladoga. Fish in Caviar." But the narrative connection to reality is not verbal, but pictorial: the work is woven from thousands of small points using colored pencils, and these pointelles represent fish eggs.

Ilgar Nadzhafov. "Khabaravchanin (Sasha Albertovskaya) and his fish. One fish was called Margarita from OTV. Masha Ostrovskaya - that was the name of one fish", 2014

The works of Sergei Fedulov are also fantastical. One could say that he is a science fiction artist: his mixed media paintings are full of aliens and other characters from sci-fi and fantasy films. Analogies with Sots Art are also inevitable: Fedulov has many images of Stalin, who sometimes appears in the most unexpected situations, like at a meeting with Napoleon or on another planet.

However, Sots Art had a clear political subtext, a desire to debunk the personality cult and the very language of ideology. This is why Stalin meets Marilyn Monroe in Leonid Sokov's classic Sots Art painting. But Fedulov's work has neither a critical attitude nor political allusions. He creates and carefully arranges a parallel reality in which characters from popular films, fairy tales, and old newspapers coexist. And this reality seems hospitable to him.

Sergey Fedulov. "Comrade Stalin makes a report at the intergalactic congress at the Komsomolskaya station", 2018

Aleksander Savchenko is faithful to the genre typology of classic paintings: still life, landscape, nude. Among the artists in the exhibit, he stands out as a painter. He is an expressive, simultaneous painter; that is, he grasps hold of an impression holistically and instantaneously. Hence his manner of generalizing form: Savchenko does not construct form (most likely, academic staging would immediately kill his desire to paint) but seizes it, "cutting off" that which has slipped away. He seizes form without caring about similarity. Rather, similarity is important for him, but he understands it as a hunter: the motif must be caught by surprise. Savchenko needs a drive. Many trained artists have thought about this non-reflection, this ability to rely on pictorial instinct, including Emil Nolde. Art works in mysterious ways.

Alexander Savchenko. "The Old Man", 2016
A few more words about the meaning of the exhibition. I would like to focus the audience's attention on its aesthetic component, leaving aside the aspects related to the fates of the artists. We must only note that all the participants, considering their life circumstances, show a phenomenal will for creative self-expression.