The Moscow Conceptualist, or Russian Conceptualist, movement began with the Sots art of Komar and Melamid in the early 1970s, and continued as a trend in Russian art into the 1980s. It attempted to subvert socialist ideology using the strategies of conceptual art and appropriation art. It was an artistic counterpoint to Socialist Realism, and the artists experimented aesthetically in a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture, performance, and literature.
The central figures were Dmitri Prigov, Ilya Kabakov, Irina Nakhova, Viktor Pivovarov, Eric Bulatov, Andrei Monastyrski and Komar and Melamid.
Mikhail Epstein, in After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture (1995) explains why conceptualism is particularly appropriate to the culture and history of Russia, but also how it differs from Western Conceptualism:
In the West, conceptualism substitutes "one thing for another" – a real object for its verbal description. But in Russia the object that should be replaced is simply absent.
Epstein (1995) quotes Ilya Kabakov:
This contiguity, closeness, touchingness, contact with nothing, emptiness makes up, we feel, the basic peculiarity of 'Russian conceptualism'... It is like something that hangs in the air, a self-reliant thing, like a fantastic construction, connected to nothing, with its roots in nothing... So, then, we can say that our own local thinking, from the very beginning in fact, could have been called 'conceptualism'.
The Moscow Conceptualist artists faced difficulties exhibiting their work in the cultural atmosphere of the late Soviet Union. At the Manezh exhibit of 1962, which featured the work of many aesthetic precursors to the Moscow Conceptualists, then-Party Chairman Nikita Khrushchev excoriated the art and artists he saw there. In 1974, at the infamous Bulldozer Exhibition, many Moscow Conceptualist artists had their work destroyed when the Soviet authorities brought in bulldozers to clear the field in which the exhibition was held. The art movement was largely ignored outside of the Soviet Union, and within it, it was confined to a narrow circle of Moscow artists and their friends.
Mikhail Naumovich Epstein is a Russian-American literary scholar and essayist who is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Cultural Theory and Russian Literature at Emory University, Atlanta, US. He moved there from Moscow, USSR, in 1990. He has also worked as a Professor of Russian and Cultural Theory at Durham University, UK, from 2012 to 2015, where he was the founder and Director of the Centre for Humanities Innovation at Durham University.
Russian postmodernism refers to the cultural, artistic, and philosophical condition in Russia since the downfall of the Soviet Union and dialectical materialism. With respect to statements about post-Soviet philosophy or sociology, the term is primarily used by non-Russians to describe the state of economic and political uncertainty they observe since the fall of communism and the way this uncertainty affects Russian identity. 'Postmodernism' is, however, a term often used by Russian critics to describe contemporary Russian art and literature.
Ilya Iosifovich Kabakov, is a Russian–American conceptual artist, born in Dnipropetrovsk in what was then the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union. He worked for thirty years in Moscow, from the 1950s until the late 1980s. He now lives and works on Long Island, United States.
Komar and Melamid is a tandem team of Russian-born American conceptualist artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. In an artists' statement they said that "even if only one of us creates some of the projects and works, we usually sign them together. We are not just an artist, we are a movement." Both artists were born in Moscow, but emigrated to Israel in 1977 and subsequently to New York in 1978. The pair's co-authorship of works ceased in 2003–2004.
The term Soviet Nonconformist Art refers to Soviet art produced in the former Soviet Union from 1953 to 1986 outside of the rubric of Socialist Realism. Other terms used to refer to this phenomenon are "underground art" or "unofficial art".
Metarealism is a direction in Russian poetry and art that was born in the 1970s to the 1980s. The term was first used by Mikhail Epshtein, who coined it in 1981 and made it public in the Soviet magazine "Voprosy Literatury" in 1983
The Bulldozer Exhibition was an unofficial art exhibition on a vacant lot in the Belyayevo urban forest by Moscow and Leningrad avant-garde artists on September 15, 1974. The exhibition was forcefully broken-up by a large police force that included bulldozers and water cannons, hence the name.
Oleg Vassiliev was a Russian painter associated with the Soviet Nonconformist Art style. Vassiliev emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City in 1990 and later lived and worked in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Erik Bulatov is a Russian artist, who was raised in Moscow. His father was a communist party official who died in World War II at Pskov, and his mother fled Poland at age 15 in support of the Russian Revolution. Bulatov's works are in the major public and private collections in Europe, Russia and United States. In 2008 Bulatov became an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts.
Neo-conceptual art describes art practices in the 1980s and particularly 1990s to date that derive from the conceptual art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. These subsequent initiatives have included the Moscow Conceptualists, United States neo-conceptualists such as Sherrie Levine and the Young British Artists, notably Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin in the United Kingdom, where there is also a Stuckism counter-movement and criticism from the 1970s conceptual art group Art and Language.
Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov was a Russian writer and artist. Prigov was a dissident during the era of the Soviet Union and was briefly sent to a psychiatric hospital in 1986.
Often referred to as “Soviet Pop Art”, Sots Art or soc art originated in the Soviet Union in the early 1970s as a reaction against the official aesthetic doctrine of the state— socialist realism, which was marked by reverential depictions of workers, peasants living happily in their communes, and, during Stalinism, a young, fit Joseph Stalin.
Svetlana Boym was the Curt Hugo Reisinger Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literatures at Harvard University, and a media artist, playwright and novelist. She was an associate of the Graduate School of Design and Architecture at Harvard University. Much of her work focused on developing the new theoretical concept of the off-modern.
Alexander Melamid is a Russian-born Conceptualist and performance artist.
Boris Efimovich Groys is an art critic, media theorist, and philosopher. He is currently a Global Distinguished Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University and Senior Research Fellow at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe, Germany. He has been a professor of Aesthetics, Art History, and Media Theory at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design/Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe and an internationally acclaimed Professor at a number of universities in the United States and Europe, including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California and the Courtauld Institute of Art London.
Genia Chef is a German-Russian artist living in Berlin. He is considered the founder of Post-Historicism, an art movement that combines elements of traditional painting with aesthetic experiments and interprets current events in the form of a new mythology. Germany.
The Kolodzei Art Foundation, Inc. promotes the contemporary art of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The Kolodzei Art Foundation often utilizes the artistic resources of the Kolodzei Collection of Russian and Eastern European Art, one of the world's largest private collections, with over 7,000 artworks by over 300 artists from Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Soviet art is the visual art that was produced after the October Socialist Revolution of 1917 in Soviet Russia (1917—1922) and the Soviet Union (1922—1991).
Anatoly Osmolovsky, is a Russian visual artist, performer, theorist, editor and teacher. He resides in Moscow where he sculpts wood. Osmolovsky grounds his art in theory and supports his work with self-published writings in Radek (1993) and Base (2010) magazines and by teaching art history.
Georgy Kiesewalter is a Russian conceptual artist, photographer and essayist. As an artist, he uses a wide range of media to communicate his concepts to the public – from painting to graphic art, from installations to conceptual photography and digital art.
Epstein, Mikhail: After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.