Text: Nikolai Sadik-Ogli 14.8.2017
Photographs: Ali Sadik-Ogli
The Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center, a self-described Free Cultural Fellowship (http://www.p-10.ru/), has been a central cultural and artistic hub in St. Petersburg since it was founded in an abandoned building by a squatting group of independent artists, musicians, and writers in 1989 known as the “Free Culture” Society in direct opposition to Soviet-enforced cultural conformity. This author first visited the complex in 1996, primarily to attend one of the weekly improvisation performance salons hosted by composer Yuri Kassyanik. That particular evening’s concert was dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased American jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald. At that time, the center was a loose confederation of independent musicians and artists working together outside of the official system. Its underground status was reflected by the nearby shops that primarily specialized in bootleg cassettes and CDs of American and European rock and pop music. The dilapidated building’s courtyard seemed to house many bums and alcoholics, which sometimes made it feel almost scary to visit.
Today, the facility is a clean, well-organized, and officially recognized cultural destination. The entrance is well marked and has been moved to the opposite side of the block at 53 Ligovsky Prospekt. The complex consists of four buildings that house a variety of galleries and concert spaces that host changing exhibitions and programs amongst the many artist’s apartments and studios that are still there. Art is everywhere – drawn on the walls, filling the stairwells, hallways, and empty spaces inside and out. There is a reception area that charges an entrance fee of 500 RUB for foreign residents but only 200 RUB for locals(1). Even the surrounding shops have become legitimate businesses that mainly cater to occult, New Age, and other exotic items and subject matter.
The centerpiece of the complex is the Museum of Non-Conformist Art, which is housed in two separate Big and Small Halls in Buildings C and D, respectively. The exhibition “#Rejected” was on display in the Big Hall through 23 July 2017 and featured pieces that had been either 1) rejected by Soviet censors or other juries when they were submitted for exhibitions and competitions, or by collectors who never purchased them; 2) rejected by the artists themselves for various reasons (without being destroyed, however); or 3) reflected the idea of rejection as the subject matter of the work. The pieces included Alexander Goncharuk’s four-panel homage to Malevich’s “Black Square,” each of which served as the background to a forest of dead flies pinned to the paintings in steady rows like zoological display. Recalling the way in which the “Black Square” had originally been displayed in the upper corner of the exhibition hall, the paintings on the right in the picture above had been inspired by Russian Orthodox icons in a more traditional manner. Another piece consisted of the board that had been set beneath the easel and happened to randomly accumulate dense abstract patterns created by paint dripping during the creation of other works.
The Small Hall housed the more historically interesting exhibition, “Leningrad Non-Conformist Art from the 1950-1960s: Paintings and Graphics from the MoNa Collection,” which is on display through 10 September 2017. Today in retrospect, it is difficult to imagine how these mostly impressionistic or humoristic pieces could ever have been considered controversial. The exhibition included a historically important map of the many clandestine apartment exhibitions that had dared to display these contested works throughout the city. Ultimately, however, the true story behind what the exhibition’s title alludes to is obviously much larger than what can be displayed in its three rooms.
Among the other venues, the Pons Per Styx Gallery in Building C featured an exhibition of humorously subversive “function-collages” by Vadim Voinov. They included “Start,” a simple commemoration of Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight on a blue and black background painted on a board to which a silver toy rocket was attached. Many of Voinov’s other pieces featured memorabilia depicting life in the former Soviet Union and its leaders, like Joseph Stalin, in unflattering ways.
The stairwell between the fourth and fifth floors in Building C houses The Door Gallery, which displayed the “All Seeing Eye,” an installation by Janno Bergman and the Estonian “Art Container” Group, through 23 July. The piece consists of a three-dimensional model of the pyramid seen on the back the American one-dollar bill inside a large plastic case. The case’s lights turn off as people pass by, and in the dimness, the eye at the top of the pyramid rises up from within.
The Museum of The New Academy of Fine Arts in Building B featured an exhibition dedicated to “Xenia,” the deceased wife of artist Timur Novikov. Also in Building B, the Art-Liga Gallery displayed “Games of Reality: An Exhibition in the Framework of the ‘New Names’ Project” with paintings by Lo Si, Sasha Sandler, and others. Additionally, the first floor Corridor Gallery between Buildings B and C houses the permanent exhibition, “Samizdat A4,” dedicated to literary, artistic, and musical activities conducted in opposition to Soviet repression since 1956. In conjunction with Voinov’s pieces and the retrospective on display in the Small Hall, these exhibitions effectively demonstrate the original, rebellious spirit behind the founding of the Pushkinskaya experiment during Soviet times while also demonstrating its contemporary historical importance as a living, central repository for that independent tradition.
A visit to Pushkinskaya 10 can be capped off by refreshments from either the trendy Fish Fabrique café and concert venue on the ground floor near the entrance or in the Clipping Room (Montazhnaya) café on the fourth floor of Building D, which features video art, media exhibitions, and a wide mix of interesting background music. There is also a small Hotel Pushkinskaya 10 with eight individually decorated rooms.
Several of the other facilities were not open at the time of this visit. The Sound Museum in Building D features changing exhibitions, such as Vladislav Makarov’s recent video installation “Inner Applause,” as well as occasional concerts. The Lampa Studio in Building B is described as an experimental space for young artists and curators. The complex also houses the office of Nikolai Vasin’s Temple of Love, Peace, and Music named after John Lennon, which displays Vasin’s fifty-year-old collection of Beatles memorabilia. A street sign identifying the unofficial “Ulitsa John Lennon” has also been posted in the courtyard. In a similar but more domestic spirit, Building C contains a Museum of the Reality of Russian Rock.
The history of the center has been thoroughly documented in the extensive book: Art Center “Pushkinskaya-10” – Parallelosphere: 1989-2009 (St. Petersburg: Pushkinskaya-10 Art League, 2010) by Sergey Kovalsky, Evgeny Orlov, and Yuri Ribakov.
(1) The Pushkinskaya 10 logo, as seen above the entryway and in all of their advertising materials, immediately recalls The Resident’s trademark image of an eyeball in a top hat, as seen in the poster for this recent documentary: http://residentsmovie.com/.