Rarely Seen Photography and Video of Russian Counterculture During Perestroika

April 20 through September 13, 2013 Opening Reception May 1, 2013

Andrei Usov (Russian, b. 1950), Aquarium, "New Staff," 1985. Silver gelatin print.  Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. Photo Peter Jacobs. Young people restless in the late 1980s turned to art to express themselves in a city repeatedly at the forefront of change, embracing a DIY attitude in all their endeavors. They experimented with photography and the newly available medium of video; their music declared personal and global anxieties. These artists were not in London, New York, or Los Angeles: they lived half a world away in Leningrad – now St. Petersburg – Russia. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music,” at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, examines – through the eyes of these artists – the final years leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, as well as its immediate aftermath.

With more than 60 photographs and videos, the exhibition presents – for the first time – photographers, musicians, and video artists as active members of groups, rather than individuals, to underscore their collective goals. Most of the works in the exhibition, which were created between 1985 and 1993, have not been seen in the United States. In addition, newly translated interviews with – and critical writings by – the artists present firsthand accounts of participation in these cultural networks.

Drawn from the Zimmerli’s Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, this exhibition presents the largely overlooked, provocative underground milieu that existed in Leningrad during the time frame. “Interest has focused on painting and sculpture,” explains Corina L. Apostol, a Dodge Fellow at the Zimmerli and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History at Rutgers, who organized the exhibition, the first in the United States to consider this fertile material. She continues, “Despite lingering state censorship, this era represents an unusual time of artistic freedom, collaborations, and experiments among and between artists working in photography, film, and video.”

From 1985 to 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, instituted a series of ambitious reforms known as “perestroika” (restructuring) and “glasnost” (openness), which were intended to upgrade the existing Communist system rather than overthrow it. These efforts continued through 1993. During this period, many artists had “day jobs,” allowing them to make a living in a relatively inexpensive and stable economy while finding time to pursue their creative visions.

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Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University
71 Hamilton Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901