Laughter in the Gallery

The audience’s mocking of the art originally created as a serious statement is a phenomenon that first appeared in the West in the era of impressionism. Its waves reached Russia at the turn of the century: cultured audience made fun of paintings by Mikhail Vrubel and Konstantin Korovin at the exhibitions of the Art World Association. The Russian avant-garde provided new reasons for mockery: laughter, insults, funny insults and insulting chuckles could be heard both in galleries and at discussions with artists and theorists. Provocation per se, that is the purposeful provocation of a scandal and strong reaction to art, was rarely a conscious strategy for avant-garde artists. The Donkey Tail exhibition, put together by artist Mikhail Larionov, referred to the mystification of a French poet, who exhibited abstract paintings and then revealed their “animal origins”. It turns out that the canvases were partly painted with a donkey’s tail. However, for the majority of avant-garde artists their soul searching was a serious affair, an imprint of the spirit of the time and the peculiarities of the contemporary human perception, optics and psyche.

Laughter in the Gallery exhibition is dedicated to the clash of several approaches to abstraction and laughter. Chronologically it is positioned in the time period from the 1950s until today. The late 1950s was a tipping point for Russian history. With the debunking of the personality cult and the liberalism of the thaw period, Soviet people were presented with a panorama of Western life and art. This happened due to the Soviet Union’s participation in the Venice Biennale (since 1956), World Expos (since 1957); exhibitions of the culture and industry of France and the USA (1961 and 1959) and the World Youth and Students Festival (1957). Abstract art, once again in vogue post-WW2, became the stuff of jokes for Soviet caricature artists as per the order of the party officials fighting the “harmful influence of the West”. The subject was further expanded after the exhibition for the 30th anniversary of the Moscow branch of the Soviet Artists Union at the Manezh (December 1962), where First Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev strongly criticized abstract artists and formalists. However, the objects of critique have largely remained the same as in the pre-revolutionary era, except for the massive layer of caricatures connecting Western trends with the “harmful and decadent” influence of foreign policy enemies.

Critique from the left was official in the USSR but the avant-garde was also mocked in the West. A selection of caricatures from Western leftist publications of the elitist stance of the rich bourgeois lovers of avant-garde art  will complement Soviet caricature. Moreover, we will show select examples of liberal, democratic caricature created in the West for “common interest” newspapers and magazines. Artistic production constantly clashes with the audience reaction, and novelty is born in the atmosphere of premeditated and unconscious humour.

To balance out the attacks by sharp pencils the exposition also includes works similar to those make-believe things ridiculed by caricaturists: paintings by Lev Kropivnitsky, early sculpture by Boris Orlov. In addition, we will show examples of post-modernist use of caricature as material for art (Yuri Albert). Finally, in our days we see the emergence of a new journalistic critique of contemporary art from the left: in works by Vladislav Kruchinsky and Victoria Lomasko. The issues of realism and abstraction, of laughter always rooted in the social and political circumstances of those who laugh, and non-objectivity as the dream of a classless society and a common language will be metaphorically revealed in works by Rostan Tavasiev and Valery Chtak.

The exhibition also provides a platform for futher research of cartoons and artworks interplay. Please visit out Russian/English blog

Gallery «At Shabolovka»

Moscow City Galleries Network 
Director Elizaveta Fokina

Exhibition Department
Natalya Zyumchenko
Margarita Godina
Grigoriy Busurin

Gallery «At Shabolovka»
Art-director Larisa Grinberg

Yuri Albert
Armen Bugayan
Igor Voroshilov
Igor Vulokh
Egor Koshelev
Lev Kropivnitsky
Vladislav Kruchinsky
Viktoria Lomasko
Lydia Masterkova
Evgeniy Mikhnov-Voytenko
Boris Orlov
Nataliya Parkhomenko
Aleksandra Paperno
Olga Potapova
Yulo Sooster
Rostan Tavasiev
Valery Chtak
Art-Group ZIP

Valentin Dyakonov

Curator's Assistant
Nataliya Tsareva

Indzhila Samad Ali

Andrey Androsov
Olga Bazueva
Evgeniya Melemina
English translation 
Nurangiz Khodzharova
Maria Vakolyuk
Evgeniya Khaet

The exhibition organizers would like to thank: 

Mikhail Alshibaya
Museum “OTHER ART", Museum Centre of the Russian State University for the Humanities
and personally Yuliya Lebedeva

Regina Gallery and personally Mikhail Ovcharenko and Yury Dudka
Vladimir Smirnov & Konstantin Sorokin Foundation and personally Vladimir Smirnov
Valery Kovalenko, Anna Zykina
Paperworks Gallery and personally Evgeny Mitta

Kultura Newspaper and personally Elena Yampolskaya
Pravda Newspaper and personally Tamara Smirnova 
Iskusstvo Art Magazine and personally Mikhail Lazarev and Alina Streltsova
Galart Publishing House and personally Aleksey Moguchev
History Through the Eyes of KROKODIL magazine. The 20th Century project and personally Aleksandra Livergant and Yury Katsman

as well as Aleksandr Albert, Anna Gershovitch, Maria Orlova and Elena Yudina

Click here to download the press release