Austrian attaché has Russian Revolution on his mind

Collector seeks artists to respond to the events of 1917 and their legacy today in Russia

by Sophia Kishkovsky  |  10 February 2016
Austrian attaché has Russian Revolution on his mind
The Moscow-based, Austrian collector Simon Mraz wants artists to look far beyond the Finland Station, where Lenin famously arrived in 1917 to foment revolution. Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images
Simon Mraz, the Austrian cultural attaché, art collector and director of the Austrian Cultural Forum Moscow, is planning a contemporary art show on the continuing impact of the 1917 Russian Revolution on both Russia and the world. The exhibition will draw on untapped resources in Russia’s regions.

It is due to open in October 2017 to coincide with the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art and the centenary of the revolution that shook the world. It follows Nadezhda—the Hope Principle, a contemporary art exhibition held in Moscow last autumn as part of the previous biennial, for which Mraz sent artists out to mine the meanings and imagery of Soviet industrial centres.

Mraz, who also heads the European Union National Institutes for Culture’s Russian cluster, plans to go below the surface and look beyond St Petersburg, the cradle of the revolution. “I want to invite artists to break free from what will be taught” during the revolution’s centenary, he says.

Russia’s culture ministry organised a major conference in 2015 to discuss the approaching anniversary. In line with the Kremlin’s approach in recent years, the culture minister Vladimir Medinsky said that both sides in the civil war that followed the revolution should be honoured equally. Kremlin ideology in recent years has sough to unite Tsarist and Soviet grandeur into a seamless narrative of glorious Russian history.

Mraz wants the 2017 show to highlight the impact of the revolution on Russia’s disparate cultures, from the Asian and Muslim cultures in its outer reaches, in places such as Buryatia, Yakutia and the Caucasus, to its agricultural core. “What did revolution mean for Russia as an agricultural country, a country of peasants? Can we find traces of the revolution still today?” he asks. He is also keen to examine the legacy of the Russian Arts and Crafts Movement. Before the revolution artists sought to rediscover peasant artistic traditions. “At the same time, from a completely different starting point, [the abstract artist Kasimir] Malevich was also looking at the peasant culture,” he says.  

“I believe it is very interesting to review [the revolution’s] history and also to confront today’s artists with present times. On that basis, with connection to the present and a vision of the future, memorialisation makes sense,” he says. Mraz, who is already in talks with possible participants, says it is too early to name specific contemporary artists.

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