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Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Photograph courtesy of the Stella Foundation

Photograph courtesy of the Stella Foundation

Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Photograph courtesy of the Stella Foundation

Photograph courtesy of the Stella Foundation

Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Photograph by Irina Nakhova

Engagement with space is the most important element in my work. That’s why my first visit to the Russian Pavilion, which, by the way, I had never seen before, was very important to me. The pavilion was empty, and I experienced the powerful sensation of observing the sky through the skylight on the second floor. The sky, thrown open before me, drew me in; I just wanted to sit there— watching the birds fly, the trees swinging in the wind, and the clouds flowing. Something else that struck me (but in an unpleasant way) was the color of the pavilion, which was completely unsuited to Aleksei Shchusev’s architecture. Because, first and foremost, the Russian Pavilion is fundamentally garden- style, “gazebo” architecture, a style that evokes the illusion or impression of green, and on my visit it was a lackluster yellow. But this was just my first reaction. I was unaware that the pavilion was originally green, yet my desire to repaint it green, in order to dissolve it into the trees and the lagoon waters, was absolutely spontaneous and very strong.

From my perspective, the key to this project is not what happens in the individual rooms, but the process of moving from one space to another. That’s why I pay such close attention to details: in order to produce a shocking contrast or a gradual movement through space, as well as from one time period to another. Every space of the pavilion contains references to the future or the past, or a concentration on the present, as in the central room, where we simultaneously observe what’s happening under our feet and what’s transpiring up in the sky. All of these references, tricks, and hints are meant for the viewer. But at the same time, and to an even greater degree, they’re intended for me.

Irina Nakhova

Translated from the original Russian from an interview with the artist conducted by Vladimir Levashov in Moscow in 2015.


Irina Nakhova (b. 1955, Moscow) graduated from the Graphic Design Department of the Moscow Institute of Polygraphy in 1978, where she studied with a generation of Russian nonconformist artists now known as the Moscow Conceptual School. She received international recognition as a young artist for Rooms (1983-1987), the first “total installation” in Russian art, located in the Moscow apartment where she still lives today.

An installation artist and academically trained painter, Nakhova combines painting, sculpture, and new media into interactive installations and environments that engage viewers as co-creators of conceptual mindscapes. "One of my largest goals is to create spaces for difference experiences, physical and intellectual, that do not exist otherwise as spaces," Nakhova said in an interview with New York Arts Magazine. "I am interested in art that gives experiences, that is powerful and eye-opening and that has significance. Significance in a way that gives insight to both individual and social life, as I still believe that art is power."

Nakhova was a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR from 1986 to 1989. Her first monograph, Irina Nakhova: Works 1973-2004, was co-published in 2004 by the Salzburg International Summer Academy, Austria, and the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow. Nakhova received the prestigious Kandinsky Prize for “Project of the Year” in 2013, one of the highest honors in contemporary Russian art. In 2015, she was chosen as the first female artist to represent Russia in its pavilion at the Venice Biennale, with an installation, The Green Pavilion, that The Guardian called "haunting...its impact is devastatingly direct."

In the catalogue for The Green Pavilion, curator Margarita Tupitsyn writes of Nakhova’s green-red room, “The abstract composition comes from Nakhova’s earlier canvas Primary Colors 2 (2003), imbued with the Russian avant-garde’s reductive color theories…and embrace of what Malevich termed ‘a new color realism.’ Applied mechanically, the latter transgresses the boundaries of the canvas to operate in literal space. In this sense, Nakhova’s green-red room is a postmodern (Jamesonian) hybrid of color-form and color-text in which one can locate the traces and distortions of society as a whole.”

Nakhova’s work has been shown in over thirty solo exhibitions and numerous major group exhibitions worldwide. Her work can be found in private collections and museum collections such as Tate Modern, London; The Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art, New Brunswick; The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. She has taught contemporary art at Wayne State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Princeton University, and the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts, Salzburg, among other institutions.

Irina Nakhova lives and works in the United States and Russia.

Selected Exhibitions

Selected solo exhibitions

2019 Irina Nakhova: Museum on the Edge. Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University

2015  The Green Pavilion. Representing Russia in the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

2011  Rooms. Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow

2006  Moscow Installation. Karlsruhe Kunstlerhaus, Karlsruhe, Germany

2005  Artificial Shrubbery and Woman Sitting on the Bank. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow 

2004  Alert: Code Orange. National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow

2000  Deposition. Salzburg Musuem of Modern Art, Salzburg, Austria

Selected group exhibitions

2019 Room 4 in Performer and Participant. Tate Modern, London

2019 There Is a Beginning at the End: the Secret Tintoretto Fraternity, Chiesa di San Fantin

2016  Thinking Pictures: Moscow Conceptual Art in the Dodge Collection. Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

2016  Russian Artists: Participants of the Venice Biennale, Manege Central Exhibition Hall, Moscow

2015  Post Pop: East Meets West, Saatchi Gallery, London

2011  Special guest of the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art

2009  History of Russian Video Art. Vol. 2, Moscow Museum of Modern Art

2007  Kandinsky Prize, Exhibition of Selected Nominees, Vinzavod Contemporary Art Center, Moscow; Riga, Latvia; and Palazzo Italia, Berlin

2006  Collage in Russia. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

1993  Adresse provisoire pour I’art contemporain russe. Musée de la Poste, Paris

1988  Ich lebe - Ich sehe. Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland

1984  XV Exhibition of Young Moscow Artists. Manege Central Exhibition Hall, Moscow