Summer Exhibition at the Dom Radio

On June 4th the Dom Radio in St. Petersburg hosted the opening of the Summer Exhibition of Contemporary Art, which gave St. Petersburg a chance to enjoy an echo of the Summer Exhibition in London - the longest running art exhibition in the world, held by the Royal Academy since 1769 (the only skip was in summer 2020 due to the pandemic).

"Summer Exhibition" in St. Petersburg marked the beginning of a joint visual arts project by MusicAeterna in partnership with the Aksenov Family Foundation, with the active participation of the Vienna contemporary art fair viennacontemporary.  The format of the selection of artists and galleries for the Summer Exhibition was set by their participation in viennacontemporary in different years of the fair.  The exhibition at the Dom Radio showcases works that are available for purchase.  This particular feature of the project is an homage to the annual Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy in London.

Photo: Ivan Erofeev

Thematically, the exhibition explores the phenomenon of memory, revealing visual images of space and time.  In this sense the Dom Radio – former building of Noble Assembly (1912-1914) – is extremely significant object for St. Petersburg.  In 2019, the MusicAeterna musical ensemble took up residence here. The leader of the ensemble, the conductor Teodor Currentzis came up with the idea of a conceptual reincarnation of the Bauhaus in the Dom Radio, which is being developed by musicians, artists and theatre. This is how the cross-disciplinary project of the R. A. D. I. O. Cultural and Educational Center came into being.

The "Summer Exhibition" is located in fragments on all six floors of the Dom Radio, cultivating in its emphatically Soviet atmosphere the spirit of contemporary art, not so much nostalgic for the past, but aiming at the future.  But the voice of recent history resounds so clear within these walls that the viewer involuntarily flinches when wall signs categorically forbid taking the elevator "in coats and galoshes." The ban hints opaquely at the questionable appropriateness in such strict interior regulations of barefoot grotesque objects by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm, placed politically correct by the curators – in the whiteness of the new ground-floor gallery. Despite the interior stiffness that has been preserved from Soviet times, the various spaces of the Radio House allow to exhibit the majority of works in sufficient isolation from each other – that contributes to revealing the vivid imagery of each art object.

The exhibition opens with large-scale canvases by Ilya Kabakov, the patriarch of conceptual art, famous for his eternal breakthrough to freedom from any tightly wedged space of unfreedom.  Given the complex Soviet history of the Radio House, a former security facility, Kabakov's work can be regarded as Ariadne's thread leading this story from a labyrinth of totally closed spaces to the concept of an open enlightenment center.  Not without reason his iconic installation, Conversation with an Angel, mounted on the roof of a psychiatric hospital in Amsterdam, an endless stairway to heaven, comes to mind.

However, the works by Ilya and Emiliya Kabakov presented at the Summer Exhibition are placed not in the historical interiors of the Dom Radio, but in the previously mentioned gallery area next to ironic sculptures by Wurm, expressive paintings by Tanya Akhmetgalieva, conceptual photo "Look at this" by Olga Chernysheva (read as a slogan for the whole exhibition), with early paintings by Eric Bulatov and other works of contemporary art.

After the gallery exposition in the spirit of "white cube", the viewer will have a journey through the intricate and sometimes lost world of the Dom Radio – various spaces which house works by Pipilotti Rist, Andrey Kuzkin, Evgeny Granilshchikov, Polina Kanis, Marina Alexeeva and other artists, whose works have been exhibited at viennacontemporary stands in different years.  The worlds of the artists intertwine, integrate into the overall narrative, create dialogues, but do not argue, as they mostly touch each other only in the mind of the viewer.

The journey through the floors culminates in a large-scale video installation by Mat Collishaw, one of the leading artists of Damien Hirst's Young British artists team, thanks to whose explosive creativity London still retains its status as world art capital.  "Echolocation" is an eleven-meter, three-channel video installation that aims to "grope" and recreate the architectural space of Kingston's lost history of over a thousand years.   The video is projected onto a semi-transparent fine mesh made from a stretched fishing net.   This gives the images a depth and ethereal quality, as if the free-flowing history of the invisible past creates a ghostly palimpsest, erased by the flight of a bat.

"Echolocation", which has made a lot of noise, is on display in an underpass in London, and the Dom Radio has a former reading room dedicated to it. But the sense of an echoing story cannot be contained in any enclosed space: the "echolocation" of the house of radio itself follows the viewer through all the floors, reflecting sounds from the past in the emptiness of sombre Soviet corridors, then in the neoclassical interiors of the foyer and the "Renaissance" double staircase (colonnades, mirrors, paintings on the ceiling). However, the visuals will not overpower the echoes, it is not for nothing that the House of Radio has always been reigned a cult of sound.

Two more openings await the viewer on the way back. One of them, an installation by Jannis Kounellis, the renowned master of arte povera ("poor art") is on view in the Shostakovich Studio. The Leningrad Symphony was recorded in this sacred place.  The piece Jannis Kounellis  exhibited in the studio, created in 2015 for a production of “Nosferatu” in Perm, now belongs to MusicAeterna.

As part of a special project by MusicAeterna and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, four video works by Bill Viola from the "Martyrs" series are being exhibited in the former church room. The choice of church space is by no means accidental. This series of works by Bill Viola, the iconic master of video art who pioneered it in the 1970s and has devoted his life to it, is on view at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

The ceremonial rooms of the Dom Radio, which have miraculously survived the under the chisel of history  and have preserved the echoes of the Noble Assembly, dispose to the display of iconic works dealing with controversial, deeply philosophical themes. The encounter with Kunellis' and Viola's installations in the preserved interiors tucked away in the depths of the Dom Radio sounds an expressive closing chord in the whole "Summer Exhibition" scenario.

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