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Culture news, 30.09.2005 12:47

Art invasion

modern_art The fifth “Contemporary Art in the Traditional Museum” event got underway last Saturday with modern artists invited by the Pro Arte Institute to liven up eight of St. Petersburg’s more frowsy museums with specific new works.

The festival attempts to broaden the appeal of generally small and rarely visited museums by means of contemporary art, at least for the month of its duration, and put their often narrowly focused permanent expositions into a new, stimulating context.

This year participating institutions range from the Botanical Museum to the Museum of Defense and Blockade of Leningrad to the Narvskiye Triumfalnye Vorota Memorial Museum. Apart from two Muscovites and one Frenchwoman, all the artists taking part are St. Petersburg residents.

Despite expectations to the contrary among art watchers, the current festival has produced some fruitful art works and displays some interesting artistic decisions on the part of the artists involved, and two of the works are of exceptional interest.

Perhaps the most intelligent is that displayed in the Museum of the History of Religion.

The museum’s permanent exhibition details archaic rites, paganism, ancient cults, and the controversial history of Christianity, Judaism and other world religions. Now, complementing these quite predictable museum exhibits, prominent local artists Olga and Alexander Florensky have displayed a three-dimensional project called “Spritual Structures.” The works consists of hand-made models of different temples, towers, synagogues, churches, mosques and pagodas. The intrigue is that, to quote the artists, “the structures are made of different combinations of ‘found objects’ with a prevalence of antique details — wood, bronze, brass and others — thus presenting... a collage from the debris of heterogeneous material cultures.”

Interestingly, through recognizable and familiar domestic objects — everyday stuff like pails, plates, dishes, door-handles and so on — the viewer is drawn into a very intimate, personal relationship with the artifacts of sometimes very different cultures, with the invitation of reaching a certain level of understanding and acceptance of them. Clearly the work is an appeal for religious tolerance — something one might expect to be one of the museum’s principles.

Another unmissable venue is the Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic. Here, artist Andrei Rudyev, instead of working with the frigid content of the museum, preoccupied with polar exploration and natural history, has instead occupied its facade. Or, to be precise, the facade is occupied with 37 penguins, who make up, according to the artist, an “Antarctic Mission.” Fortunately, unlike in the Hollywood movie “Batman Returns,” this penguin mission has only a diplomatic purpose. The artist was fortunate in that the museum’s facade is under reconstruction and completely covered in plastic sheeting, rendering it a faceless monolith. Rudyev reasonably interpreted this as resembling as big iceberg on which to place his model penguins like soldiers on guard. Whatever the interpretation, this lucky coincidence amplifies the whole experience of the exciting installation and gives it a very totalitarian feeling.

“Contemporary Art in a Traditional Museum” runs through Oct. 23 at eight city museums. See listings, page xi.

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