Oleg Kulik ranks among the most interesting and controversial Russian artists. He has managed to attract the attention of art critics and exhibition curators by his performance shows, which are characterised by “strong expression” where he himself assumes a role of “artist-animal”. In these performances Kulik becomes a dog, a bird, a fish, and a bull, simplifying his performance language to the basic emotional vocabulary of an animal.

Oleg Kulik’s Living and Dead Nature by Andrei Erofeyev

Oleg Kulik’s Living and Dead NatureIf we imagine a popular review of the most famous events and personalities of post-Soviet Russia, alongside the Putsch, Yeltsin and Chechnya there would definitely be a photograph of a dog-man biting excitedly on someone’s leg at an opening in Moscow, Stockholm or New York. This is Kulik, the only contemporary Russian artist whose work is known to the very widest international audience.

Some people think of Kulik as the most Russian of Russian artists. Gratez un russe et vous verrez un tatare, as the French say among themselves, although in public they cannot follow this advice, just as the Russians themselves cannot, for they feel obliged to make every possible effort to appear like normal people. But everyone knows that their character, behaviour, psychology and even physical appearance are very different from the European norm. Because they are people of the borderline, marginals of history and geography to both the West and the East. The overwhelming majority of Russian artists conceal this innate marginality as a defect. But Kulik, in contrast, has intensified it to an extreme, it is as if the doubles in whose characters he plays out his performances – the dog-man, the bird-man, the amphibian-man, the goat-man and other mutants – carry within themselves the formula of the “genuine nature” of the Russian, which evokes a mixture of delight and horror in western man.

Other people think that Kulik is the mirror of his age. At the start of the 1990s the eternally listless, drowsily submissive “homo sovieticus” suddenly awoke and in his dash for freedom he stripped himself of absolutely everything – including many humanistic values and taboos. He delighted in trying on the “jungle grin” of capitalism and had a go at reorganising life according to the laws of the jungle. Kulik is a despot and tormentor, who forced a platoon of soldiers to hold paintings up in their outstretched arms for hours on end instead of hanging them on the walls. Kulik is a masochist, suffering hunger and cold like the poorest of beggars for days and weeks at a time in his meta-performances. Kulik is a hedonist, indefatigable in inventing new partners and positions in his zoophilic games with animals. Kulik is the leader of the “Animals’ Party” which he himself founded. All these various faces of the artist reflected the eccentric nature of a revolutionary time, and when the tide of social folly began to recede and the state gradually brought everyone back within the framework of the law, then Kulik also turned back from a showman into an artist and, secure in the bosom of the fine arts, he began producing photographs and sculptures that had little in common with his heroic past.

Such interpretations of Kulik’s work are perfectly defensible, but having observed the artist’s development from close up, I am aware of somewhat different impulses underlying his actions. Kulik belongs to the cultural movement of the cusp of the 80s and 90s, an entirely international movement with manifestations not only in the USSR, but also in England and in France, that cast aside decisively the left-democratic ideas of “alternative” art as the independent practise of intellectual commentary and analysis. This movement had the utopian goal of integrating contemporary art into the broad context of mass culture. In the name of this goal it accepted ideological sacrifices, and in particular it actualised the regressive oppositions of former times, such as “culture/nature” and “text/reality” and came down on the side of life, declaring war on descriptive languages and the word as such.

In place of “devalued” words the body, instinct and passion were declared to be primary. “Keep your mouth shut! And if you can’t keep it shut, then bellow!” Kulik himself quite literally personified his own motto. He took a vow of silence, barked, lived in a dog-kennel, ate with dogs from a common bowl and regarded it as his greatest achievement when police in Zurich and Berlin fought him as if he were a genuine mad dog. Kulik illustrated the discourse of this time, the fashionable vision of man as a “naked ape”, in a way no one else did. Incarnated in him, this discourse gave rise to a neo-mythological monster.

In my view Kulik’s brilliant gestural invention of the zoomorphic artist biting a viewer at a performance and later writing a manifesto for his action is part of a general cultural interest in “animal nature”. The artist only arrived at his own plot and twist for the theme five years ago in his series “Dead Monkeys”. The twelve animals’ faces look like formal ancestral portraits. The animation of their expressions does not, however, exclude the possibility that they could all be straw-stuffed “ready-mades”. In the context of the art museum or gallery to which the artist transfers them, these stuffed trophies acquire an additional humanistic subtext in the tradition of the “memento mori” and are transformed into a mute reproach, a question, a threatening reminder. This is both life that has died and the mask of death. The “monkeys” were the first exhibit in Kulik’s distinctive museum, which has been augmented since then with many and various exhibits. All of them present living-dead nature and demonstrate the existence of life after death. Only not on the mystical level, but in absolutely concrete and material form – in the form of the integument invested with aesthetic significance, caught in spectacular, eternally frozen motion by the hands of the technologist. We can assume that Kulik arrived at the idea for such a museum through reviewing the photographic records of his own performances and correlating them with the experiences and emotions that he went through at the time and which now look like no more than effectively staged acting.

2013
Oleg Kulik, РАМЫ, REGINAGALLERY, MoscowFrames, REGINAGALLERY, Moscow

2012
1th Kiev Biennal of Contemporary Art, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kiev

2011
Oleg Kulik – Primadellabiennale. The Russian, 18 Diviasulis, Cagliari
Oleg Kulik – Vespri della Beata Vergine, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venezia

2010
And Water Flows Beneath the Ice, Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art, Mosca, Russia
DEEP INTO RUSSIA – Galleria Pack, Milan

2008
Galerie Rabouan Moussion, Paris
NEW PARADISE – Leonhard Ruethmueller – Contemporary Art, Basel

2007
From the dustbin – XL Gallery, Moscow
Museum of Nature or New Paradise. Galleria Nina Lumer, Milano

2005
System of Coordinates: Actions & Performances (1994 – 1999) – Artspace Sydney, Sydney, NSW
Oleg Kulik – Gobi Test 2 – XL Gallery, Moscow

2003
Oleg Kulik. Center for Contemporary Art, Naples
Slogans. Regina Gallery, Moscow

2001
Deep into Russia. S.M.A.K, Gent
Two Kuliks. Ikon Gallery, Burmingham

2000
Oleg Kulik in Warsaw. Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
Lolita vs. Alica. Galerie Rabouan-Moussion, Paris

1999
Red Room. XL Gallery, Moscow
Russian. Regina Gallery, Moscow

1998
Oleg Kulik. Galerie Rabouan-Moussion, Paris
Oleg Kulik. Center for Contemporary Art, Riga

1997
Family of the Future. M.Guelman Gallery, XL Gallery, Moscow
Virtual Dog. M.Guelman Gallery, Moscow
I Bite America & America Bites Me (together with Mila Bredikhina). Deitch Projects, New York

1995
My Family, or the Nature is Perfect. M.Guelman Gallery, Moscow
The Same and Skotinin. XL Gallery, Moscow
The End of History. XL Gallery, Moscow

1994 I Love Gorby. M.Guelman Gallery, Moscow

1989 Presentiment of Unliberty. Palace of Youth, Moscow

1988 Paradox as a Method. Exhibitional Hall of Sevastopolsky region, Moscow

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2017
“Washington 186”, AEROPLASTICS contemporary, Brussels
“Innere Haut, Kunst und Scham”, MARTa Herford, Herford

2016
“Kollektsia! Contemporary art in the USSR and in Russia, 1950-2000”, Centre Pompidou, Paris
“Heritage. Nature – Достояние”, Victoria Art Gallery, Samara
“Russian Artists – Participants Of The Venice Biennale Of Arts. Selected Works”, MANEGE Central Exhibition Hall – The Сollection of the Сontemporary Art of St-Petersburg, St. Petersburg
“Conversation autour d’une collection. Collection Jocelyne et Fabrice Petignat”, Villa Bernasconi, Lancy “Situation Of Art In Museum Permm”, Perm Museum of Contemporary Art, Perm

2015
Recycling Religion – Whitebox Art Center, New York City, NY
Satellite | Taking Flight – Whitebox Art Center, New York City, NY
Art Collector – Lena & Roselli Gallery, Budapest
Grammar Of Freedom / Five Lessons: Works From Arteast 2000+ Collection – Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow

2014
Post Pop: East Meets West, The Saatchi Gallery, London
Russian Performance: A Cartography Of Its History, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow
Busan Biennale 2014, Inhabiting the World, Busan Museum of Art, Busan
Une histoire, art, architecture et design, des années 80 à aujourd, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d´Art Moderne, Paris
Russian Contemporary Art, Havremagasinet Art Center, Boden
Le Mur, La collection Antoine de Galbert, La Maison Rouge, Paris
Do it Moscow, Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, GCCC, Moscow
Transition and Transition. Josip Vaništa, Oleg Kulik, Blue Noses, Ludwig Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art – Budapest, Budapest

2013
The Team I Can’t Live Without, REGINAGALLERY, Moscow
Russian Art after Perestroika, Sorø Kunstmuseum, Sorø
Un Automne Russe, Topographie de l’art, Paris
Artist in Society, Galerie Rabouan Moussion, Paris
Murano-Merano, kunst Meran, Meran
Collection Platform 4: Emotion and Technology, Office 510, Kiev
En suspension, FRAC, Pays de la Loire, Carquefou
Collection Joseph Kouli, Mains d’oeuvres, Saint Ouen

2012
En un desorden absoluto. Arte contemporáneo ruso. Premio Kandinsky (2007-2012), Arts Santa Monica, Barcellona
La pelle che abito, PACK Gallery, Milano

2011
Surreal Versus Surrealism in Contemporary Art, IVAM, Valencia, Spagna
Glasstress, Venezia
Site Inspection – The Museum on the Museum – Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art – Budapest, Budapest
Für Hund und Katz ist auch noch Platz – Art Foyer der DZ Bank Kunstsammlung, Frankfurt/Main
Wax – Sensation in contemporary sculpture – KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art Aalborg (former Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum), Aalborg
Collection Platform 1: Circulation – PinchukArtCentre, Kiev
WAX – Sensation in Contemporary Sculpture – Kunstforeningen GL Strand, Copenhagen

2010
Space Odyssey, Mystetski Arsenal-Cultural Art and Museum, Kyiv, Russia
Serie InContemporanea, Associazione Fondo Giov-Anna Piras, Asti
Ibrido, PAC-Padiglione di Arte Contemporanea, Milano
Eroi ed eroine, Castello di Rivalta, Torino
If I Only Knew… – Moscow museum of modern art – MMOMA, Moscow
PostDimension – A Journey in the Contemporary Art – Torrione Passari, Molfetta
Group Show – Kerstin Engholm Galerie (former Engholm Engelhorn Galerie), Vienna
Things evoke feelings – CSW Centrum Sztuki Wspolczesnej / Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
Animal politique – FRAC – Poitou-Charentes, Angoulême
Objects in Mirror Are Closer than They Appear: About videoart in Russia – Futura, Prague, Artis – Abbaye St André – Centre d’art contemporain Meymac, Meymac
Russian Utopias – Garage Center for Contemporary Culture – GCCC, Moscow
Summa Summarum – National Center For Contemporary Art (NCCA) – Moscow Branch, Moscow

2009
Sketches of installations – XL Gallery, Moscow
Gender Check – Rollenbilder in der Kunst Osteuropas – Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig – MUMOK , Vienna
Omnibus Rebus / About All Things – National Center For Contemporary Art (NCCA) – Moscow Branch, Moscow
Cocker Spaniel and other tools for international understanding – Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kiel
Videnie – Perm Museum of Contemporary Art, Perm
Common History and Its Private Stories. Geschichte und Geschichten – MUSA – Museum auf Abruf, Vienna
I Was Russia – Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin
Future depends on you. New Rules – Moscow museum of modern art – MMOMA, Moscow
History of Russian Video Art. Volume 2 – Moscow museum of modern art – MMOMA, Moscow
Étude to Art Object – Moscow museum of modern art – MMOMA, Moscow
The another mythology – National Center For Contemporary Art (NCCA) – Moscow Branch, Moscow
ARTISTS OF THE GALLERY – A SPECIAL SELECTION – Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna

2008
Großes Kunstfest LOSS OF CONTROL – MARTa Herford, Herford
I Am Making Art: 4 estudios sobre el cuerpo del artista – Centro Huarte de Arte Contemporáneo, Huarte
Contemporary Russian Art – Russian soc-art – MODEM Centre for Modern and Contemporary Arts, Debrecen
A(rt)R(ussia)T(oday)-index – LNMM Latvijas Nacionlais Mkslas Muzejs / LNMA Latvian National Museum of Arts, Riga
Friction and Conflict – Kalmar konstmuseum, Kalmar
Space Is the Place – CAC – Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH

2007
Exhibition of Kandinsky Prize Nominees – Winzavod – Moscow Contemporary Art Center, Moscow
STILL HERE: humour in post-communist performative video – Artspace Sydney, Sydney, NSW
Sots Art. Art politique en Russie de 1972 à aujourd’hui – La Maison Rouge, Paris
Depository of Dreams – White Space Gallery, London (England)
MOSCOUPOLIS – Espace Louis Vuitton, Paris
Asia – Europe Mediations – IF Museum Inner Spaces, Poznan
Space Is the Place – Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art – SMoCA, Scottsdale, AZ
Freakshow – An unnatural history – BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (England)
I am making Art – Chapitre 1 – Rituel, Transgression, Endurance, Risque – Centre d´Art Contemporain Geneve, Geneva
Movement. Evolution. Art. – Cultural Foundation Ekaterina, Moscow
Thaw – The State Russian Museum – Marble Palace, St. Petersburg
Crossing Frontiers – Looking for an Artistic Identity in Eastern Europe – Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art – Budapest, Budapest

2006
Crossing Frontiers – The Artistic Search for the Identity in the Eastern Europe,
Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg Origin of Species
Reiz und Risiko, Museum Haus für Kunst Uri, Altdorf, Switzerland
Art in Epoch of Social Darvinism, The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan
Videoinstallation of Oleg Kulik Performances, Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, CCA in Kiev and Lublana
Tretiakovskaya Gallery 20th Century, Moscow
Russia! S. Guggenheim Museum, New York; S. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

2005
StarZ. Within the framework of the 1st Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow
Always a Little Further. Arsenale, 51 Biennale di Venezia
Angels of History – Moscow Conceptualism and its influence. Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (MuHKA), Antwerpen

2004
FIAC, M. Guelman Gallery booth, Paris

2003
Live Culture/. Tate Modern,
Horizons of Reality/, Muhka,
Lozung/Message, The Ideal City/. II Bienniale de Valencia,
Absolute Generation/, 50 Venice Bienniale, Palazzo Zenobio, Berlin – Moskau/. 1950-2000. Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; State Historical Museum, Moscow
Bunker. Bunker, Berlin

2002
Moskau: Paradise. Krinzinger Projekte, Vienna
Le Tribu dell’arte. City Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome
Under the Skin. Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg
IV Cetinjski Biennale, Museum of History and Arts, Cetine
The Russian Patient. Freud Museum, London
Davaj!: Russian Art Now, Postfuhrant, Berlin; MAK, Vienna
Socialais exhibicionisms. Latvian Museum of Photography, Riga

2001
49 Venice Bienniale. Yugoslavian Pavilion, Venice
The Body & Sin (Art Is the Virtue of Communication). I Biennale de Valencia, Valencia
Trans Sexual Express Barcelona. Centre d’Art Santa Monica, Barcelona

2000
L’Autre moitie de l’Europe. Jeu de Paume, Paris
Performing Bodies. Tate Modern, London
Nordic, Baltic and Russian photography. Finnish Museum of Photography (Cable Factory), Helsinki
Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Oberhausen
Videoentropy. Center of Contemporary Art, Kiev
Herausforderung Tier – von Beuys bis Kabakov (Animal Challenge). Stadtlische Galerie Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe

1999
Fauna. State Center of Contemporary Art, Moscow
Locally Interested. National Gallery for Foreign Art, Sofia
After the Wall. Modern Museum, Stockholm
Moskau heute. Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Gent

1998
International Month of Photography, Moscow
L’Arte dans le monde, Passage de Retz, Paris
Die Medialization. Edsvik konst och kultur, Stockholm
Public Interest. Central House of Artists, Kiev
Sommerausstellung. Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Gent
Flesh and Fall. Gallery Art Kiosk, Brussel
Body and the East. Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana
Spectacle de Groupe. FRAC des Pays de la Loire, Nantes
XXIV Sao Paolo biennale, Sao Paolo

1997
Virtual Dog. M. Guelman Gallery, Moscow
It’s a Better World (together with Mila Bredikhina). Wiener Secession, Vienna
Europarte. Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa, XLVII Venice Biennale, Venice
I Lioghi Ritrovatti. CCA, Serre Di Rapolano, Siena
Biennale Selest’Art (together with Mila Bredikhina), Center of Contemporary Art, Selesta

1996
Interpol. Fargfabriken, Stockholm
Manifesta I (together with Mila Bredikhina). V-2, Rotherdam
De Rode Poort. Museum van Hadendaagse Kunst, Gent
Discort: Sabotage of Realities (together with Mila Bredikhina). Kunsthalle, Hamburg

1995
No Man’s Land (together with Mila Bredikhina). Center of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen
Kiev Encounter. XL Gallery, Moscow; House of Ukraine, Kiev
Kunst im Verborgenen. Documenta-Halle, Kassel
Multiplication. Tsaritsyno Museum, Moscow
Der Grosse Zurcher Ausstellung. Kunsthause Orlikon, Zurich

1993
Devoted to the VII Congress of the Delegates. M. Guelman Gallery in the Central House of Artist, Moscow
Book Exhibition. Lenin Library, Moscow

1992
Apology of Shyness, or the First Hand Art. Regina Gallery, Moscow
On Transparency. Regina Gallery, Moscow; Zimenki village
Philosophy of a Name. Center of Contemporary Art on Yakimanka, Moscow

1990
Logic of Paradox. Palace of Youth, Moscow
Zen. Exhibition Hall at Kashirka, Moscow
Avant-garde-90. Central Exhibition Hall Manege, Moscow

1989
Out of Genre. Palace of Youth, Moscow