Magazine article Art Monthly

Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky

Magazine article Art Monthly

Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky

Article excerpt

Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky Lisson Gallery London July 7 to August 19

Art from the Soviet Union began appearing in Western galleries in the late 80s. In 1988 the Moscow conceptualist artists Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky left the Soviet Union and found themselves a studio in New York. The work in this exhibition somewhat follows this trajectory, from early black and white photographs of the 70s, grey textual paintings of the 80s, to their more recent epic cinematic colour projections. The Kopystianskys explore simple objects and banalities with a conceptual edge, a literary flair and an absurdist disruption of perception. Unlike earlier pioneers such as Ilya Kabakov and Erik Bulatov, who were born in the 30s and whose art was a product of the 60s and addressed a hermetically sealed-off Soviet reality, the Kopystianskys belong to the second generation of Soviet non-conformist artists who considered themselves part of a larger international conceptualist sphere. Yet even today the quite specific ethos that underlay Russian conceptualism can be sensed in their work. Maybe it was because of the heavy unseasonal grey sky that fell behind the concrete land around Edgware Road, or the angry air that hung outside the Lebanese cafes, but the setting certainly seemed to heighten the sense that something about the exhibition smacked of jarring ideologies, cultures and sensibilities. This unease was most apparent in the plain juxtaposition of the Soviet non-conformist work of the early 70s and the shiny commercial white box of the Lisson that encased it. It is perhaps important to remind ourselves that these are artists whose work was literally formed in a very different world.

The earlier works in the show are grouped together, and include Svetlana Kopystiansky's Cold Shapes/Warm Shapes, 1979, consisting of four black and white photographs of geometric shapes made out of dark grassy patches cut in the fallen snow, or sculpted snowy blocks. This is a modest organic minimalist intervention, and recalls the work of Francisco Infante, the pioneer of Soviet conceptual photography, whose interest in Suprematism, particularly its space-creating qualities, informed his concept of the 'artefact'. Opposite this series is Igor Kopystiansky's Pictorial Study, 1975, 12 black and white photographs that show the artist's hand, frame by frame, dipping his fingers into a pot of black ink. The artists play knowingly with art historical narratives: the pot apparently holding exactly enough ink to colour a Malevich-type black square, while Jackson Pollock's painterly heroics are rendered banal, and given a very Russian absurdist twist. This playful engagement in things as ideas is also apparent in Igor Kopystiansky's allegorical work The Play in One Act, 1981, where ten photographs transform ordinary chairs into anthropomorphic objects engaging with each other. Upstairs are Svetlana Kopystiansky's paintings. These somehow seem less convincing than the more conceptually sharp photographic pieces, handwritten excerpts from Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov and 20s absurdist poetry in Russian and English form landscapes and seascapes in shades of grey.

As an artist couple the Kopystianskys are interesting, sometimes working and exhibiting together, sometimes separately. …

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