Biennial Contemporary art News Russian Federation

Russia’s other art biennial

Days before Manifesta 10 opens in St Petersburg, the International Biennale for Young Art kicks off in Moscow

The Kiev-based artist Yevgen Samborsky's Amnesia, 2012, addresses the apathy he sensed in Ukrainian society a year before the Maidan protests started

The Fourth Moscow International Biennale for Young Art opened on Thursday, 26 June, just two days before Manifesta 10 in St Petersburg, making Russia a focus of the international contemporary art world while it remains at the center of a political controversy over its actions in Ukraine.

The biennial’s title, “A Time for Dreams”, was inspired by Dr Martin Luther King’s March on Washington speech, says its British curator David Elliott. However, the show, which runs until 10 August, is deeply rooted in reality, he adds. “It’s not a dream of an escape, it’s a dream of criticism, a dream made by young people who have no reason whatsoever to feel guilty for the world into which they’ve been born,” Elliott says.

During a preview of the biennial on Wednesday, Elliott pointed to a number of political projects in the show, including the Krasnodar-based ZIP art group’s Civil Resistance District installation. Gay and transgender issues, a hot button topic in Russia, are among the other themes addressed by works on show. Elliott says there was no self-censorship or any pressure by the organisers to restrict the artists.

One group that is conspicuously absent from the main exhibition, however, is Ukrainian artists. Elliott, who was the curator of the First Kiev Biennale of Contemporary Art in 2012, says that all the Ukrainian artists he invited to Moscow “didn’t respond to my request or said, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it’.” The 28 February deadline for applications came just days after the protests in Kiev turned bloody.

A project at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, which co-organises the biennial with the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, had better luck, with several Ukrainian artists participating. “I had no doubts about coming,” the Kiev-based artist Yevgen Samborsky told The Art Newspaper. “You can say what you think about what’s going on.” His 2012 installation, Amnesia, addresses the apathy he sensed in Ukrainian society at the time, a year before the Maidan protests began.

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