Nailya Alexander Gallery is pleased to announce “Underground: Russian Photography 1970s-1980s,” an exhibition of some forty vintage gelatin silver prints by Boris Smelov (1951, Leningrad -1998, St. Petersburg), Boris Mikhailov (b. 1938, Kharkov), Yuri Rytchinsky (b. 1935, Brdiansk), Alexander Lapin (b. 1945, Moscow), Nikolai Bakharev (b. 1946, Novokuznetsk), Gennady Bodrov (1958, Solntsy -1999, Kursk), Vladimir Kuprianov (1954-2011, Moscow), Igor Moukhin (b. 1961, Moscow), Andrey Chezhin (b. 1960, Leningrad), and Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962, Leningrad). The exhibition will run from January 25 through March 24, 2012 at the Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, Suite 704. Gallery hours are 11am-6pm, Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment.
During the Khrushchev’s cultural thaw, nonconformist art and literary movements, involving such figures and activities as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Josef Brodsky and samizdat, had a great impact on the evolution of Russian photography in the 1970s, and laid the foundation for a new generation of photographers during glasnost and perestroika in the 1980s. Photographers in the exhibition challenged the government-prescribed optimistic style of socialist realism by photographing forbidden topics, and like other unofficial artists, they risked personal safety in pursuit for individual expression and freedom. In the 1970s, Boris Mikhailov, a pioneer of Russian conceptual photography, used the medium to reflect skepticism about both approved photography and the false realities it presented. By hand- coloring black-and-white prints in the Sots Art series, Mikhailov skillfully exploited the well- known inventory of socialist realist clichés. In 1971 Boris Smelov’s exhibition was cancelled due to censorship and accusation over the mystical and obscure quality of his cityscapes.
During the pompous climate of the Brezhnev era of stagnation, Yuri Rybchinsky photographed with gritty realism a forced labor colony for young people (1978) exposing the painful aspects of its society. Nikolai Bakharev’s posed group portraits of families, friends or lovers, most of them barely dressed and taken either at a park picnic or at apartments, exploring the underlying morals of a Soviet province, while Vladimir Kuprianov took anonymous portraits from the provinces and printed them on crumpled paper in his “Mid-Russian Landscape” series (1988). More generally, Alexander Lapin and Gennady Bodrov documented the deterioration of the Soviet system, poverty, and alienation. Alexey Titarenko’s photomontages from “Nomenklatura of Signs” (1986-1989) critiqued the Communist regime as an oppressive system that converted citizens into mere signs. Using his body as model, Andrey Chezhin’s “Black Square” series (1988) is both a self-portrait and homage to Malevich. By contrast, Igor Moukhin chose the emerging generation of Moskovites as his subject in his famous “Young People” (1985-1989) series. Taken together, the photographs in the exhibition chronicle an exciting time of change and signaled the end of the Soviet empire.