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Nomenklatura of Signs (1986-1991)

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Soviet patriot, 1987
Untitled (KVG 425), 1987, Unique vintage photocollage with red linen, newspapers, gouache, and gelatin silver print
11 Khalturina Street (red flag), 1987
KBG 425 (version 3), 1987
Alexey Titarenko
Alexey Titarenko
Untitled (Forms: Leningrad-Paper-Wood-Construction-Supply-Distribution), 1988, Unique vintage photocollage with red linen, newspaper clippings, and gelatin silver print
Untitled (meat, sausage, cheese), 1988, Unique vintage photocollage with red linen, newspaper clippings, and gelatin silver print
Kino, 1988 Vintage toned gelatin silver print with iridescence
worker
female worker
sausage, cheese
Meat, fish, 1987 Unique vintage gelatin silver photomontage
worker
electricity
Untitled (hiring), c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print
bibliotheque
Untitled (biblio-), 1987 Unique vintage gelatin silver photomontage
Male worker (version 5), 1988
?!, 1988 Unique vintage gelatin silver photomontage
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Untitled (Meat, Fish), 1988
Untitled (Irina Ivanovna Patseva), 1986, Unique vintage gelatin silver photomontage
Untitled, c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print
Untitled (a sculpture of a peasant is crucified by pravda (truth) newspaper’s stand), c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print
Untitled (the back of the sculpture of Lenin), c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print
tree trunk
Leningrad Bureau of Inquiries, 1987
Untitled (strengthen the world through labor), c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print
Windows with discus thrower, 1986-88
Crucified woman with children, 1988
Untitled (Forms: Leningrad-wood-paper-construction-supply-distribution), c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print
Courtyard, 1987
Arrest, c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print
Untitled, c. 1986-1988, Vintage sepia-toned gelatin silver print

The series Nomenklatura of Signs is a biting critique of the Soviet class of powerful bureaucrats known as the nomenklatura. Titarenko especially criticizes Soviet visual propaganda such as posters, signs, slogans. In his view, the nomenklatura imposed propaganda upon the Soviet psyche, and deprived the Soviet person of his or her individuality and authenticity. Titarenko mocks this dehumanizing propaganda in his collages and photomontages by depicting the Soviet subject as an assemblage of prosaic signs and symbols. Inspired by the traditions of dada and futurism, Titarenko poetically destroys and recreates meaning from these signs in his collages by combining torn-up portraits, fragments from Leonid Brezhnev’s speeches, and scraps of red linen. With irreverence and biting humor, he expresses the need for deeper portrayals of human experience and its assortment of misfortunes, struggles and joys.

Nomenklatura of Signs was first exhibited in 1989 in Paris. In  the early 1990, it was published by Aperture in the catalogue for their exhibition Photostroyka: New Soviet Photography, which toured the United States for three years. Today, prints from the series can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University; the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; and the Centre National de l’Audovisuel, Luxembourg, among other museums. In 2020, the series was published by Damiani in the book Nomenklatura of Signs.

Biography

Click here to read Titarenko’s essay City of Shadows, published in The City is a Novel (Damiani, 2015), in which he describes his coming-of-age as an artist, the social and political context of his work, and some of his greatest influences, in particular Dostoyevsky and Shostakovich.

Born in 1962 in Leningrad, present-day St. Petersburg, Titarenko began taking photographs at a young age and studied in the Department of Cinematic and Photographic Art at Leningrad’s Institute of Culture. He had his first professional success with his series Nomenklatura of Signs (1986-1991), a biting critique of the Soviet bureaucracy that drew on the aesthetics of Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and other artists of the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde. Working in secret, Titarenko conceived the series as a way to translate the visual reality of Soviet life into a language that expressed its absurdity, and to expose the Communist regime as an oppressive system that converted citizens into mere signs. In 1989, Nomenklatura of Signs was included in Photostroyka, a major show of new Soviet photography that toured the United States.

Titarenko rose to international prominence in the early 1990s for City of Shadows, a series of photographs of his native city made in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union and inspired by the music of Dmitri Shostakovich and the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Titarenko’s application of long exposures, intentional camera movement, and expert printmaking techniques to street photography produced a powerful meditation on an urban landscape still suffused with a history of suffering. In the decade that followed, his pursuit of the city of his youth led him as far afield as Venice — St. Petersburg has been called "the Venice of the North" due to its canals and to the influence of the European architects who helped build the city — and Havana, whose streets and buildings remain frozen in the Soviet era.

For the past eight years, Titarenko has turned his lens toward a very different city: New York. In this work, Titarenko brings his longstanding concerns with time and history to bear on a relatively young city known for its relentless, headlong pace. Titarenko’s distinctive long exposures and selective toning highlight the way that architecture not only gives form to the lives of a city’s inhabitants, but also stands as an embodiment of its history. Even in New York, time stands still, if just for a moment: in the defunct fire alarm boxes still posed on busy street corners; in turn-of-the-century façades adorned with the multivalent, overlapping signage of the modern era; and in buildings like the Domino Sugar Factory, a powerful example of the city’s rich past meeting its implacable present.

In 2015, Titarenko’s first monograph, The City is a Novel, was published by Damiani and selected by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best photobooks of the year. For Titarenko, the city not only shapes and influences each individual’s mindset and point of view; it is also a creative force, the stage for narratives in which each of us becomes his or her own distinct character. As he writes in the book, “Universal emotions perpetuated during the last century…constitute the main themes of my photographs, to the extent of transforming the most documentary among them into elements of a novel — not reportage, but a novel, whose central theme is the human soul.”

Titarenko creates each print by hand in his darkroom, producing a rich, subtle range of tones that renders each piece unique. Such masterful printing is particularly suited to Titarenko’s longtime interest in water and its relationship to the city, bringing out the texture and reflective quality of snow, rain, clouds, and urban harbors and waterways, and infusing each image with moisture and light.

Titarenko’s photographs have been shown in over thirty solo exhibitions and over forty group exhibitions around the world. His work can be found in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Columbus Museum of Art; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT; the Museum of Fine Arts, Denver; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of the City of New York; the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the George Eastman House, Rochester; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the European House of Photography, Paris; the Musée Réattu, Arles; the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; the Centre National de l'Audiovisuel, Dudelange, Luxemburg; the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; and the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, among other museums.

Alexey Titarenko lives and works in New York City. His second major publication, Nomenklatura of Signs, was published by Damiani in 2020 and presents the titular body of work in its entirety for the first time.

Selected Exhibitions

2020
Collecting New York's Stories, the Museum of the City of New York, NY, USA

2018
Zerkalo: Forever After, The State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSPHOTO, St. Petersburg, Russia
Pendulum: Merci e Persone in Movimento, The MAST foundation, Bologna, Italy

2017
Alexey Titarenko: The City is a Novel, Damiani Gallery, Bologna, Italy
Alexey Titarenko: The City is a Novel, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2015
Alexey Titarenko: Photographs from St. Petersburg (1991-1999), Galerie C, Neufchâtel, Switzerland
Alexey Titarenko: St. Petersburg in Four Movements, Manège Royal, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris, France
Le parfums dans tous les sens, Jardins du Palais Royal, Paris, France
Alexey Titarenko: New York, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2012
Contemporary Russian Photography: Perestroika Liberalization and Experimentation, Fotofest, Houston, TX
New York: Stieglitz to Titarenko, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2011
A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Alexey Titarenko: Photographs 1986-2010, Lodz International Fotofest. Atlas Sztuki Gallery, Lodz, Poland
Soviet Photography in the 1980s from the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection, Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJ

2010
Alexey Titarenko: Petersburg in Black & White, Late Revelations, Moscow International Photobiennale, Pobeda Gallery, Moscow, Russia
Alexey Titarenko: St. Petersburg in Four Movements, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2008
Temps perdus, curated by Gabriel Bauret, Thessaloniki Photo Biennale, Greece
Alexey Titarenko: Venice, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2007
Vital signs: Place, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
DE L’EUROPE. Photographies, essais, histoires", Centre National Audiovisuel de Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Alexey Titarenko: Havana, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2006
Northern Lights, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2004
St. Petersburg: City of Water and City of Shadows, FotoFest, Houston, TX
Alexey Titarenko: Time Standing Still, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

2002
Alexey Titarenko: Four Movements of St. Petersburg, Reattu Museum, Arles International Photography Festival, Arles, France
Time Regained: Fragments from St. Petersburg series, Manezh Central Exhibition Hall, Moscow, Russia

2000
Alexey Titarenko, Retrospective Exhibition, Galerie Municipale du Chateau d’eau, Festival Garonne, Toulouse, France
Le Temps Inachevé, Nei Liicht Gallery, Dudelange, Luxemburg
Nomenklatura of Signs (audiovisual projection), Keep the light on..., Centre National de l'Audiovisuel, Clerveaux Castle, Luxemburg
Magician of St. Petersburg, Garry Edwards Gallery, Washington, DC, USA
Biarritz Terre d'Images, Biarritz, France

1999
Ville des Ombres: Alexey Titarenko, photographies, Musée de Nice, Galeries des Ponchettes, Nice, France

1995
New Soviet Photography, Karlsruhe Art Museum, Karlsruhe, Germany
Self-Identification, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway

1996
Black and White Magic of St Petersburg, Month of European Culture in St. Petersburg, The Grand Hall of St. Petersburg Philharmonic Society, St. Petersburg

1994
City of Shadows, Gallery 21, Cultural Center Pushkinskaya 10, St. Petersburg, Russia

1993
Nomenklatura of Signs, Photopostcriptum project, State Russian Musuem, St. Petersburg, Russia

1992
Experiences photographiques russes, Month of Photography in Paris, Grand Ecran, Paris, France
Nomenklatura of Signs (audiovisual projection), Centre National de Photographie, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France

1990
Photostroyka: New Soviet Photography, Burden Gallery, Aperture Foundation, New York (followed by a three‐year U.S. tour)

1989
Nomenklatura of Signs, Ligovka-199 Exhibition Hall, Leningrad, USSR
Visages de Leningrad, Drouart Gallery, Paris, France

1983, 1986, 1988
Solo exhibitions, Nevskiy Prospekt 90, Leningrad, USSR

1979
Annual review exhibitions of Zerkalo Photographic Club, Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad, USSR

1978
Zerkalo Photographic Club Second Exhibition, Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad, USSR
Leningrad from another side, Zerkalo Photographic Club, Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad, USSR