Yuri Avvakumov. Paper Architect
20 November – 15 December 2018
White Space Gallery, Cultural Dialogue present the solo exhibition of architect, visual artist and curator Yuri Avvakumov (b. 1957, Tiraspol) whose artistic practice aims to critically reevaluate the architectural, cultural and ideological heritage of Constructivism and the Russian avant-garde. The show features two works – La Scala (1985-2005) and Temporary Monuments (1986-ongoing) – which engage in a reflection on the ideological implications of large-scale architecture and on the intrinsic meanings of basic construction elements such as scaffolding and ladders, cranes and staircases.
Avvakumov is most famous for introducing – together with other young graduates from the Moscow Architectural Institute such as Michael Belov and Alexander Brodsky – the concept of ‘paper architecture’ in 1984. The term describes a genre of conceptual design in the USSR produced only on paper as a way of bypassing political restrictions and criticizing the dehumanizing nature of Russian architecture of the time. The group, which exhibited collectively under the title Paper Architects in 1984, chose not to take part in a system where buildings had to be erected cheaply and quickly with little care for users, where skilled labor was shunned, creativity stifled and architecture was part of a large-scale bureaucratic machinery. Following this experience, Avvakumov developed , in 1996, the project Russian Utopia, a Depository – an archive for visionary architectural projects created in Russia during the last 300 years that had never been carried out. The artist perceives the project as the embodiment of a collective Russian dream and as a metaphor of a “columbarium for rejected fantasies.” The archive was shown in numerous museums and art institutions, including the Venice Biennale in 1996.
The long-term project La Scala – created by the artist between 1985 and 2005 – consists in an ever expanding series of black and white photographs, sketches and sculptures. Their subject matters are stairways and ladders which the artists has come across, traveling through such different locations as Moscow, Venice, Uçhisar (Turkey), Kaliningrad, Krasnoyarsk, Cannes and Rome. According to Avvakumov stairs are not only the fundamental element of any architectural construction but also a key metaphor which stands for the possible communication between, ‘above’ and ‘below’ and ‘earth’ and ‘cosmos’. Stairways are also an important element of Russian visual culture, famously featuring in Sergei Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin from 1925. One of the most celebrated scenes in the film is the massacre of civilians on the Odessa Steps which stands in as a metaphor of both the upcoming communist revolution and of the bloodshed it will involve.
Text by Dorota Michalska
Yuri Avvakumov is an architect, curator and artist living and working in Moscow. In the early 1980s, he was involved as an exhibition designer in a series of exhibition of Lyubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Konstantin Melnikov and Vladimir Tatlin. His artistic practice is mostly focuses on the Russian avant-garde legacy and its later revaluation. Since 1986, he has worked on a series called Temporary Monuments, devoted to 1920s Constructivism and its protagonists, which he has shown at the Russian Museum in Petersburg (1992), the State Museum Architecture in Moscow (1993), at the 6th Venice Biennale of Architecture (1996), and in the exhibition Berlin-Moscowat Martin-Gropius Bau in Berlin (2003), among other venues. In 2002, he reconstructed one of Kazimir Malevich’s Architectons. Avvakumov took part in the Venice Biennale in 1996 (Sensing the future. Architect as seismograph) and in 2003 (Utopia station).
His works are in collections of State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg / State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow / State Museum of Architecture, Moscow / Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow House of Photography, Centre George Pompidou, Paris, MOMA NY, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Victoria & Albert Museum, ZKM Museum for New Art, Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana, National Center for Contemporary Arts, Moscow, Stella Art Foundation, Alberto Sandretti Foundation, Milan, Krasnoyarsk Museum Center, Kaliningrad Art Gallery and Duke Museum of Art, North Carolina.
Images copyright Yuri Avvakumov. Temporary Monuments. 1989-1996. Silkscreen Prints