Take a tour of the Russian Pavillion at the 54th Venice Biennale in just over two minutes without leaving your desk. A video by VernissageTV captures the sounds, colours and aesthetics of conceptualist Andrei Monastyrski and the artist group Collective Actions.


"Empty Zones" exhibition view with Andrei Monastyrski. Photo: Daria Novgorodova. Courtesy Stella Art Foundation, Moscow.

The video takes viewers through Russia’s 2011 contribution to la Biennale di Venezia. Curated by Boris Groys, a professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University, the exhibition is titled “Empty Zones” and it provides an overview of work by Moscow-based conceptual artist Andrei Monastyrski and the artist group Collective Actions that he founded in 1976.

Click here to tour the Russian Pavillion at Venice 2011 through a video by VernissageTV.


Collective Actions, The Third Variant Moscow region, Savyolovskaya railway line, near village Kyevy Gorky, 28 May 1978. Photo documentation. Courtesy author and Stella Art Foundation, Moscow.

The pavilion has been divided into three rooms, anchored around a large central area, and the curator uses these external spaces to chart the history of Collective Actions, from the repressive Brezhnev era in the 1970s and the collapse of the Soviet system in the 1980s to the present day. Photographs of performances, videos, poems and other archival documents provide a detailed history of the 125 artistic performances that have been performed by the group since its foundation.


Collective Actions, Slogan-1977 Moscow region, Leningradskaya railway line, Firsanovka station, 26 January 1977. Photo documentation. Courtesy author and Stella Art Foundation, Moscow.

The central area hosts an installation especially made for the Biennale. A reconstruction of a Gulag dormitory surrounds a Venetian gondola mooring and new multilingual versions of a banner from 1978 are draped across the walls. The banner says, “I wonder why I lied to myself that I had never been here before. In fact, it’s just like anywhere else here, only the feeling is stronger and incomprehension deeper.”


"Empty Zones" exhibition view. Photo: Daria Novgorodova. Courtesy Stella Art Foundation, Moscow.

Adrian Searle of British newspaper The Guardian said in a recent review that he liked “the bleak humour of the Russian Pavilion,” which “is out of step with the excesses of the modern-day Moscow art world.” A critique by Claudia Barbieri, published in The New York Times on 13 June 2011, echoed these sentiments: “In an art world awash with billionaire collectors searching for the next big thing, Mr Monastyrski’s anti-commercialism makes him an oddity.”


Collective Actions, The Shoot, Moscow region, Savyolovskaya railway line, field near the village of Kyevy Gorky, 2 June 2 1984. Photo documentation. Courtesy author and Stella Art Foundation, Moscow.

Andrei Monastyrski was born in 1949, lives and works in Moscow, Russia, and is one of the most important of the Moscow Conceptualists. He founded the artist group Collective Actions in 1976 and has participated in numerous editions of la Biennale di Venezia (1993, 2003, 2007), documenta 12 (2007), “Total Enlightenment. Conceptual Art in Moscow 1960-1990” at Schirn Kunsthalle/Fundacion Juan March (2008-2009) and the Brussels Biennial 1 (2008). He was the subject of a solo exhibition held at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art from 2010 to 2011.


Commissioner Stella Kesaeva and Curator Boris Groys. Courtesy Stella Art Foundation, Moscow.

The 54th Venice Biennale began on 4 June 2011 and to date more than 150,000 visitors have attended. The event includes pavilions representing 83 artists from 89 countries, a record number, with nineteen of these countries located in the Asian region. The Biennale will wrap up on 27 November 2011.


Related Topics: Russian artists, biennales, art videos, conceptual art

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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