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Viktor Pivovarov

Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia

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Viktor Pivovarov effectively wrote himself into the collective subconscious of several generations of Russian readers by working as a freelance illustrator for children’s books and magazines in the 1970s. Unlike most of his contemporaries in the Moscow Conceptualism movement, he took this work – which financed him in the absence of shows and an art market – seriously, and today his books are highly sought after by collectors. Many critics have noted that it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between his ‘grown-up’ paintings and albums (he created the form parallel to and in conversation with Ilya Kabakov), and his interpretations of kids’ classics like Hans-Christian Andersen’s fairytales. Pivovarov is like a rat catcher, luring viewers from all social strata with his highly personal, graphic style, which owes more to European Surrealism than to Conceptual art or Pop Art, which inspired his peers.

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One might call his approach to Surrealism – on view in his newest retrospective, ‘ONI’ (They) – naive, but a more apt word would be ‘direct’. He doesn’t attempt to create an overblown version of Surrealist classics. Instead, Pivovarov starts with a personal revelation and then rewrites it with a dream-like logic, simultaneously obscuring and nearly revealing his inner urges with an openness that is unparalleled in Russian Postmodern painting. The centrepiece of his series ‘The Handsomes’ depicts a Hasidic Jew whose lower half is the body of a rat and whose upper half is a person in a suit with a cat’s paw protruding from the sleeve. This scene is also juxtaposed with what seems to be a fragment of an adolescent girl’s nether regions. His tribute to Balthus is clear, though this countering of a religious figure and an animalistic dreamer with sexual imagery represents a meeting of a basic instinct with repressive behavioural codes, not necessarily a ‘dirty old man’s fantasy’ (though some viewers may have had this reaction).

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Pivarov’s show features several recent paintings on this subject, showing that the artist, even in his early seventies, is fearless to explore sexuality, even while being more and more removed from its source. This is, in part, what sets Pivovarov apart from his Conceptualist friends. Ilya Kabakov, Eric Bulatov, Komar & Melamid and many others explored the world of shared symbols and images, the ideological lingua franca of the regime. Since making his most celebrated tableaux, A Project For A Lonely Man in the 1970s, Pivovarov, who was born and raised in a communal flat, like Kabakov, set out to depict a mainly neutral, introspective existence. People matter more than ideas to Pivovarov, and in his oeuvre one senses his desire to overcome the obstacles of politics and economy to place memory over matter.

Valentin Diaconov


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About this review

Published on 09/03/11
by Valentin Diaconov


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