Magazine article Artforum International

Boris Mikhailov: Galerie Barbara Weiss

Magazine article Artforum International

Boris Mikhailov: Galerie Barbara Weiss

Article excerpt

For more than four decades, Boris Mikhailov has photographed the shifting visual landscape of his native Ukraine, utilizing a range of formal approaches while never fully abandoning the spontaneous, amateur quality of what initially began as a hobby. (He was fired from an engineering job in the late 1960s, when the KGB discovered nude photographs he'd taken of his wife.) In his recent exhibition at Galerie Barbara Weiss--inaugurating the gallery's impeccable new venue in Kreuzberg--the artist presented two series of works, "Black Archive," 1968-79, and "Tea Coffee Cappuccino," 2000-10, spanning an artistic trajectory devoted to capturing and critiquing a cultural history that might have been otherwise neglected or forgotten.

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As in his work from the '90s, especially "Case Study," 1997, a series of portraits showing the diseased and scarred bodies of his hometown Kharkov's homeless population, "Tea Coffee Cappuccino" depicts the continued dissolution of a social body that suffers from the greed and economic disparities of an awkward transition to neoliberalism compounded by the precariousness of a postcrisis global economy. Well over a hundred images were mounted in groups, usually of two, three, or four, to create disjointed, panoramic urban scenes of decrepit kiosks decorated with gaudy advertisements; pedestrians weighed down by large shopping bags and navigating icy, garbage-strewn streets; and poor, elderly residents seemingly stuck in a time warp, waiting for trams that never arrive. And yet, characteristically, Mikhailov's unflinching view of an unpicturesque reality is infused with a fatalistic sense of humor that avoids the easy, exploitative tropes of victimhood often associated with documentary photography. Street dogs and marginalized individuals sleep, loiter, and relieve themselves in public with equal abandon; inebriated teenagers crowd around a scrawny, naked friend, who is splayed out Christlike on a wooden table; a man (the artist himself) hurls his body toward the sidewalk in a staged episode of what looks like projectile vomiting, consistent with the daily spectacle of excess and deprivation. …

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