What constitutes contemporary art for you personally? 

That is a very difficult question. I don’t know anyone who could say what contemporary art actually is. If anybody gives you a clean-cut answer, don’t believe him. In my opinion, contemporary art is a way of depicting the world through images. Most people – journalists and politics among them – describe the world, while artists focus on specific images from the world. I really don’t like “contemporary art” as a concept, because we have no other art. Contemporary art is a continuation of traditional art. There are differences. For example, contemporary art can take all possible forms: video, audio, art, installations. In this, it differs from traditional art but the meaning of art has not changed.

What is your role in today’s art scene? 

I have been a part of contemporary art for a while now. I have worked for a long time with Volodya (editor’s note: Vladimir Dubossarky), and we’ve enjoyed a successful partnership. For the last 3-4 years, I’ve been on my own. I can’t say that I see a specific role for myself in the art scene. I am working and I like my solo career. I have had new concepts and I’ve even begun working with new art forms. I am striving for the process itself, not the final result. Thus, I am constantly in the process.

What connects new and old art? 

Historically art first served the interest of religion, artists created artworks on Biblical themes for churches. Later art became more secular. The so-called “small-scale Dutch painters” (translator’s note: Russian description of 17th century Dutch artists who created small-scale yet intricate paintings) were among the first to change their ways. This is primarily connected with the changes in social structures. Capitalism was on the rise, and so was the demand for artworks that could be presented in one’s own home. If we skip a bit through history, we come to the avant-garde movement. Traditional visual art still acted as a way to capture a moment, just as in a photograph. But with the advent of cinema and photographs, there was no need to create portraits. Why would one paint, if you can just press a button and obtain an objectively accurate portrait? So, art gradually began removing itself from reality. Realism and socialist realism were the last genres of traditional art where artists attained a fantastic level of fidelity. Photographs became much closer to artworks with the use of specific settings and lighting. Artists went in a completely different direction. It made no sense to continue simply reproducing life. Impressionism – one of my favorite art movements – was established at the fin de siècle. Later Russian avant-garde gained prominence. I see the latter as a pinnacle of world art. Art became truly modern at the beginning of the 20th century. It does not strive to change the world anymore but it can still pose questions. Some artists are able to change the world, but they are singular individuals, such as Malevich and Duchamp. And the changes aren’t exactly limited to The Black Square. The world changed around and in parallel with the artists, and they tried to express these changes as adequately as possible. The artist depicts the changing world. He must possess a special kind of intuition, he must be able to feel the soft spots of the world and envision them in a particular way.

What was the turning point in your career? 

(I would like to reiterate that my creative endeavors have not come to an end.) When we collaborated with Volodya, one of the turning points in our joint career was an article about us that was published in Flash Art. There was great demand for contemporary artworks at that time. The publishers asked curator Victor Miziano about the people working in paintings in Russia, and afterwards, we were asked to do an interview. Anatoly Osmolovsky wrote the article, and we began to experience real international renown after that interview. We were invited to biennales and large-scale exhibitions and visited several galleries in France, London, and New York.

Perhaps, another turning point was the decision to bring a conclusion to our collaboration with Volodya. We worked together for more than 20 years. The decision was mutual and friendly, our project had been completed by that point. Everything comes to an end, even the USSR was dissolved. We gradually began to create independent works, and currently, we are two independent artists.

Who influenced your art at different points in your life? 

Volodya and I began working together in 1994. In the early 1990s, the Russian edition of Flash Art Magazine was published. We were all completely blown away, everything seemed incomprehensible and new. I was still a university student at that point, the Soviet Union was still a closed country, we had little information, and there was no Internet. Nobody knew what was happening in the West, we didn’t travel anywhere outside the country, so that magazine influenced me a great deal. I began considering what contemporary art really is and what I should be doing. I think that a single issue of the magazine was actually published in Russia. It included articles on Russian and foreign artists, as well as a huge interview with Andy Warhol. Everything was extremely interesting and extremely obscure, yet exciting. That is where my art career began.

What subject matter in the outer world inspires you, fascinates you and unleashes your creativity? 

I never particularly liked social media. But in the last five months, Instagram has completely grown on me. After creating a digital painting on my tablet, I can immediately publish it on Instagram. These are usually simple streets scenes that do not call for a canvas and oil paints. Your post immediately gets a reaction. Even at exhibitions, it is not often that I get such feedback. In the latter case you can usually expect about 100-200 people, and perhaps some of them will come over and say “nice job”. And you have to think whether he truly meant it or not. On the other hand, in Instagram people press “like” on everything they actually like. Getting likes becomes something of a sport. It’s socialization. A fan community is created, and you can see who likes you. This very much fascinates me. Moreover, I can see what other artists, museums, galleries are up to, I am in the loop about various events at the art scene. That’s a big plus.

Currently, I have no plans for large-scale exhibitions. There was a time when we would hold a crazy number of exhibitions, there was a wild race going on, and we would create so many paintings! Right now, I want to take a bit of a breather. Even if I am destined to create nothing else (improbable as the suggestion is), as an artist I have already realized my ambitions. When I was beginning my career, I never would have thought that the Venice Biennale and other prestigious exhibitions would be inviting us. Never would such a thought cross my mind! And so, I’ve already fulfilled my goals as an artist. But now it is impossible to stop. Every artist holds himself hostage. It is very difficult to leave one’s own framework and established language behind. Still, one has to move forward. Contemporary art is the domain of risks and experiments. When you’re already completely aware of what you are doing, one begins to lose interest. Things that I have not tried yet, things that I have to strive for – that is what I find interesting. This process truly fascinates me. Copying what one has already created holds little interest.

How would you describe the contemporary art of Russia within the wider context of international art? 

After the Soviet Union was dissolved, everyone started travelling and looking around, but this trend quickly died down. Later Russians became interested in contemporary art. People became collectors and began buying art. Art was very much in vogue. Nowadays, however, no one is interested in us, perhaps it’s a matter of politics. In Autumn 2017 we participated in a large-scale exhibition in Bern – The Revolution is Dead. Long Live the Revolution! We brought our biggest painting and even printed it on the side of a tram. The tram went around the city but we weren’t even invited to the opening. I was surprised by this. Perhaps, everything will change soon but right now something is wrong in the world.

Tell us a few words about the piece on the cover of Boscomagazine. 

Family forms the main theme of the project. The theme speaks for itself. Piero della Francesca has a fresco Madonna del Parto. I still remember the still from Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia where we are shown that image. Fantastic moments. After that, I really wanted to see that fresco with my own two eyes. I always liked Piero della Francesca. I decided to take Masha (editor’s note: Maria Pogorzhelskaya – artist, wife of Alexander Vinogradov) to Italy and finally see the Madonna. The fresco is housed in a small town on top of a high hill which is surrounded by landscapes that inspired Piero della Francesca. I initially thought that the fresco would be located in a church but it is actually a part of a rather ordinary building. You enter and see that great fresco against a white backdrop. It is notable that the fresco must have been removed from its original place in a church and moved here. I was rather disappointed that reality was not as beautiful as the film. I understood that Tarkovsky made up the whole thing. The fresco depicts the pregnant Madonna and two angels. It is said that women who want to conceive pray on the fresco and the Madonna sometimes answers their prayers. But this is just one side of the story. Italy has a multitude of small lots with little gardens that exit on to the side of the road. I learned that they are usually presented to retired people to provide them as a place to live. This land is no one’s property and once the current holder passes away, the lot is transferred to another person. This detail touched me and I began drawing those places and placed the Madonna del Parto as a centerpiece. I called the piece God’s Place. A Sacred Item in Profane Surroundings.

What does the word “family” mean to you? 

Family means my children, my very being. I always have had and always will have one family. It’s not always easy. But it is very much a necessity for humanity. It is good that people can understand each other. Of course, fights do occur. Without any fighting people would grow bored. It is the way of things. And, of course, children. I pity the people who have no children. They are a continuation of yourself and it is fascinating to watch them, talk with them, see them grow up.

How did your family impact your life? 

It impacted me greatly. Masha constantly helps me to this very day. When we worked together with Volodya, she also provided us with a great deal of assistance. When your work in pair with someone, there are both upsides and downsides. A major upside is that you are always in a dialogue with someone. In a sense, Masha is my creative assistant nowadays.

Why do people create communities? 

The need for communication is the main thing that draws people together. Moreover, within a community, some people do certain things better than other people. Thus, everyone does the thing one is most skilled at to achieve good results. This forms a symbiosis and ensures fine achievements. Take for example a group of 4-5 people. It is difficult to say how they get along with each other. Indeed, it becomes difficult to attain harmony when everyone has his own ambitions. Many people work in pairs or in trios, take the Kukryniksy as an example (translator’s note: a trio of Soviet cartoonists active in the 1920s-1930s). Such groups ensure that its members’ ambitions are focused on common goals. In the case of our duo nobody hogged the spotlight, we did fight sometimes but that is to be expected in a creative endeavor. We had one important rule: if either of us was categorically opposed to doing something, we simply didn’t do it.

How should a neophyte approach contemporary art? 

There is no true way of approaching it. One should be well-prepared in facing contemporary art and understand the context which led to the creation of a piece. If you are unfamiliar with the background, then you are bound to move right past the artwork without fully grasping what you have just left behind. It is a pity that things are like that nowadays. To fully understand contemporary art, one must read books and research. I assure you that it is well worth the time. When you know the context, any piece can be seen and understood from a completely different standpoint. It is always great to read, see and hear something new. Thankfully, everything is readily available nowadays thanks to the Internet!

Why and how should one buy contemporary artworks? 

There are different reasons. One person has an obvious empty spot over the sofa which calls for something. Another person buys artworks as one buys stock. But one has to have true understanding and experience to buy something from a virtually unknown but promising artist. Of course, if the value of art pieces goes up, one is bound to invest in contemporary art. After all is said and done, you have something to leave behind for your children or to sell at an auction in 10-20 years. Paintings that have been bought for next to nothing can be sold for a healthy profit at an auction. There are, of course, art lovers who simply love a specific piece. They are selective in their choices, they love contemporary art and they collect contemporary art. In all honesty, there are many spirited collectors in the world for whom art is a great part of life. For example, in the USA it is in vogue to buy artworks, visit exhibitions, and private viewings. Collectors enjoy great tax reliefs. Many collectors bequeath their collections to museums. For example, Guggenheim was a noted collector, and now the most famous art museum in the world with a number of departments is named after him.