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Wallach Art Gallery Exhibition Traces History of Russian Documentary Photography

"Hotel Ukraine" (Gostinitsa Ukraina) by Lev Melikhov, 1998.

Moscow has been a powerful magnet for many Russian photographers of the 20th century. "Moscow: City, Spectacle, Capital of Photography," an exhibition on display in the Wallach Art Gallery through June 21, presents the work of 31 photographers, whose images have defined the visual experience of Moscow from 1920s to the present.

Diverse in form and strategy, the 90 photographs chosen for the exhibition trace the history of Russian documentary photography and offer insight into individual practices. From Aleksandr Rodchenko's constructivist visions and Evgenii Khaldei's humanist landscapes to Igor Moukhin's scenes of urban spectacle and alienation in the works of Russia's key 20th-century photographers, Moscow ventures beyond the expected image as a site of famous landmarks, architectural treasures and dramatic lifestyles.

"Minus Thirty Degrees" (Minus tridast') by Nikolai Lavrentiev, 1963.

Early 20th-century photographers Boris Ignatovich and Arkadii Shaikhet saw themselves in the vanguard of an emerging mass-media culture, defining with their cameras the visual experience of Soviet modernity. For nearly 70 years, Soviet photography was assigned the duty of maintaining the ideological rigidity of the Soviet State. Yet, as examples of the work of Iakov Khalip, Anatolii Egorov, Mikhail Savin and Mark Markov-Grinberg show, Soviet photographic practices were much more complex than has been previously acknowledged. The works of these photographers remain intensely compelling to a modernist eye.

Contemporary Russian photographers, such as Lev Melikhov, Valerii Stigneev and Sergei Leontiev, engage with the legacy of the Soviet documentary photography. But for them the documentary is a complex and multivalent genre, which incorporates subjectivity, ambiguity and reflexivity and comments on social and cultural issues without losing sight of the position from which that commentary is made. In the recent photographs by Vladimir Kupriyanov, Igor Moukhin, Anna Gorunova and Pakito Infante, the "real" space of Moscow is replaced by an imaginary and optical spaces of virtuality.

The works in the exhibition are on loan from Moscow's Cultural Center Dom and many are being shown outside Russia for the first time. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Wallach Art Gallery published an illustrated catalogue with a scholarly essay by the exhibition curator, Nadia Michoustina, a Ph.D. candidate in Columbia's Department of Slavic Languages. The essay presents a nuanced history of Russian photography of the 20th-century, and contributes to an interpretation of extraordinary images.

"Sports Parade on Red Square" [Soccer Ball] by Ivan Shagin, 1930.

The Wallach Art Gallery is on the 8th Floor of Schermerhorn Hall. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Published: Jun 05, 2003
Last modified: Jun 05, 2003

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