a.z.: In one of your recent curatorial projects — "Specters of Communism" — you propose the term "postconceptual realism" to describe the Russian art of the 2000-10s. Unlike the realism of the 19th century, which was structured more as passive reflection, the contemporary version suggests the possibility of active intervention, its subsequent documentation and the representation of changes made in response to it. This kind of understanding of art comes close to the conceptual practices of artists from the 1970s-80s, who started to use the space of the art installation to analyze the specific features of the production process of art, as well as the context of the social relations that makes this process possible. Contemporary art does the same thing, but for the institutional boundaries assigned to it, which precipitate the use of the document as the primary material carrier of the artist's message, in turn making the documentary installation the most frequently applied medium of "postconceptual realism." In my opinion, the prototype for this can be found in museums of a non-artistic focus or, in the Post-Soviet artistic context, the Museum of Revolution.
The first time I encountered an attempt to find terminology to link conceptualism with realism was in Ekaterina Degot's text for her exhibition "Struggling for the Banner: Soviet Art Between Trotsky and Stalin." By drawing on the concept of "conceptual realism," the curator was able to describe the self-reflexive practices of painters from the 1920s, the second wave of the Russian avant-garde, as well as their experience creating didactic exhibitions. As I see it, this term remains more suited to the description of the experimental Marxist museologists, particularly Aleksei Fedorov-Davydov and his "Experimental Complex Marxist Exhibition," created at the beginning of the 1930s. In its structure, it is closest to the future critical practice of conceptualism and institutional critique. Quite importantly, Fedorov-Davydov's installation refused a strict allegiance to the medium of painting, instead mobilizing a maximum spectrum of artistic media, as well as documents reflecting their place in reality.
It is obvious that Degot's argument is focused on a particular historical period and its specific features – "conceptual realism" as a pre-cursor to conceptualism. In the case of "postconceptual realism," you actualize aspects characteristic of the production of contemporary art. Could you draw a line tracing the possible relationship between "conceptual realism" and "postconceptual realism"? That is, the relationship between the practice of the creators of Marxist exhibitions, whether it's the Museum of Revolution or the State Tretyakov Gallery, and the artistic practices of today – if such a relationship even exists?
Just generally speaking, it's impossible to talk about Socialist Realism as a monolithic event. There are at least two principle trajectories: the Moscow variant, which arose from the paintings of the late Peredvizhniki group and local strains of Impressionism, and the Leningrad history, which followed the more rigid, formal culture of the Imperial Academy of the Arts. What's more, the first generation of artists to pass through the Soviet educational system were actually raised on the introductory concepts of Modernism. For instance, VKhUTEMAS was quite modernist in spirit for an institution, and the artists who graduated from it (Aleksandr Deineka, Yuri Pimenov, Petr Vilyams, etc.) had an inherently different character of formal expression than those schooled in pre-revolutionary institutions (such as the MUZhViZ or the aforementioned Academy.) Seeing as how in the VKhUTEMAS and the Leningrad GINKhUK, students were taught by key figures from the Avant-garde, they were exceedingly well-versed in contemporary art, and if for, let's say, Aleksandr Gerasimov, Cubism or Futurism had been framed as an unequivocal sham, then for Deineka, all of these movements were perfectly understandable, and he could respect them and borrow from Modernist formal techniques within his own work. Another thing is that already in the mid 1930s, the art of the USSR begins to be universally dominated by the more conservative group, which goes back to the late Peredvizhniki, with just a touch of the colorist flourish of Impressionism (if you're talking about the Moscow strain), or the more severe Leningrad style of Brodsky and his followers, which was heavily influenced by, among other things, advances in photography. "Modernists" were forced to either adopt a new style or leave the world of "pure art" for related fields: Lissitzky, Rozhdestvensky (who would become the father of Soviet expo-design) for the fields of exhibition-making, Nikolai Suetin for the design of ceramic products as well as creating museum exhibitions (and here we should note that all three were tremendous successes – it's enough just to recall his USSR Pavilions for the World's Fairs of 1937 and 1939, or Suetin's exhibition on the defense of Leningrad), Alexander Tyshler and Vilyams for theater design and stage sets.