The Exuberance of Youth

Last year it was the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. This year it was the Moscow Photobiennale, and then the first ever Moscow Architecture Biennale. In September it will be the Eighth Biennale of Graphic Arts. So does Moscow really need another biennale? Darya Pyrkina, the curator of "Stop! Who's There? The First Moscow International Biennale of Young Art," certainly thinks so.

"We need a youth biennale because the generation gap between the young artists and the older generations is too big," Pyrkina said. "There are not enough schools for contemporary art, and having a biennale will develop a continuity. The artists of the '90s are really big right now, but since then there is no distinct group of contemporary Russian artists."

The idea of the International Biennale of Young Art came along two years ago at the National Center of Contemporary Art, which has held an annual display of young art called "Stop! Who's There?" since 2002. The Moscow Museum of Modern Art has also exhibited new young artists annually, in an exhibition called "Studio" and the two decided to unite in organizing this event.

"The purpose of the biennale is obviously a platform for young artists," Pyrkina said. "It's a place where we find and uncover new talent. If you have yearly exhibitions, you aren't going to really uncover that much talent. But if you have a big event every two years, there will be a lot of fresh blood."

This year's biennale provides many platforms. There are 78 exhibitions running throughout the month of July, with work from 467 artists from 23 countries, although Pyrkina admitted that the biennale is done as an attempt to encourage Russian, rather than international artists. The two organizers, MMOMA and NCCA, have a combination of partners that include the State Tretyakov Gallery, Winzavod Center of Contemporary Art and the Stella Art Foundation.

Entrants to the biennale have to be younger than 35 years old. "The truth is that age is more or less irrelevant, because you can become an artist at any age and then fall into the category of young artists. What we're more concerned with is showing artists that have not been exhibited before," Pyrkina said.

The various exhibitions differ greatly in style and content. The Zverevsky Center is holding a tongue-in-cheek exhibition of "Gop Art," looking at objects identified with gopnik culture, marginalized, poorly educated youth, often associated with crime. One typical item on display is a photograph of shiny pullover with the word "Russia" on it, against the background of a traditional floral fabric.

The State Tretyakov Gallery is having an exhibition called "Context," which will look at young artists and their works in the context of the work of traditional masters. The project hopes to examine questions about the role of traditional art in contemporary art and the role of new types of media.

The NCCA is kicking off the event with an exhibition "About This" (Pro Eto), an exhibition that asked youngsters to comment about politics. In the middle of the room is a map of the world, made out of fabric. On each country lie soft, fluffy, phallic objects, with the colors of the country's flag on them. Another memorable exhibit is of a skeleton, dressed in a construction hat, digging presumably its own grave.

A more profound display is by the artist Pyotr Bystrov. He has taken snapshots of graffiti art in relation to the recent scandal at the Sakharov Center, where the State Tretyakov Gallery fired Andrey Erofeyev, who curated the "Forbidden Art" exhibition. One piece of graffiti said, "An artist is not under jurisdiction," another, "Shame on the Tretyakov Gallery!" Vedomosti writer Olga Kabonova noted that this work was made even more interesting by the presence of the deputy director of the Tretyakov Gallery, Irina Lebedeva, at the biennale's opening news conference.

Kabonova was notably unimpressed by the many cliched works in the exhibition. "Demanding young people to express themselves politically was always going to have unpleasant consequences. Of course the young people expressed themselves. But they did this very carefully, so as not to upset their elders," she wrote. "It is only the start of the biennale, there will be more exhibitions. Maybe they [young artists] will have more luck producing art about love."

The MMOMA exhibition "Game Art" may prove more relevant for young artists. It looks at video games, and compares them to postmodern art. Video game designers are likened to artists and try to create their own language and philosophy through the graphics in the game. One game has a highly realistic Barbie look-alike character, whose body is rendered three dimensionally.

While Russian art and art buyers are in the spotlight this year, the government is investing very little to cultivate the next generation of artists. In fact, the Moscow International Biennale of Young Art received just 3 million rubles in funding from the Culture Ministry, less than 5 percent of the amount received by the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.

"We weren't expecting a lot of funding from the government. It is the lack of private investors that is disappointing," Pyrkina said.

"In the 20th century we used to have sponsors for art like Morozov and Shchukin, but that chapter came to an abrupt close in 1917. We gradually want to reopen that chapter again."

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