Staunton, October 26 – One of the wisest observations the late Andre de Saint-Rat ever made was that Russia’s Silver Age would have ended even if the 1917 revolution hadn’t occurred. That event of course brought the end sooner by killing, forcing into emigration or otherwise silencing many representatives of that great flowering. But it was not the only cause.
His words are an important reminder especially to students of Russia that not everything that happens in that country or elsewhere is the result of the actions of politicians. They may do many things to destroy art or at least artists but they are not nearly as all powerful as they and many others assume in determining when art is created and when it is not.
de Saint-Rat’s insight comes to mind when reading a new essay by Russian writer Viktor Yerofeyev who on visiting a recent exhibition in Moscow of art that was being produced in Russia only a few years ag asks what is becoming an eternal Russian question “why is art coming to an end” in Russia once again? (snob.ru/entry/184477/).
He suggests that an exhibit of art by Pavlensky, Pussy Riot and the War Group at Moscow’s Art4 museum of being an academic review of something that has already receded into the distant past rather than being a reflection of what is taking place in Russia today. And he asks why that is the case.
Yerofeyev’s answer to his own question is brutal and disturbing: This has happened simply because “life has become stronger than any art and we ourselves have become part of the big picture. And this vital picture is much stronger than its angry reflection” in the works on display.
“New times,” he suggests, “demand sacrificial art;” but soon the point is reached when “art on the brink of self-destruction is transformed into a routine because the times turn out to be more picturesque than it is and they in general dominate all art of the new avantgarde.” The period in Russia since 2014 is one of those times.
Art has again gone silent as it did in 1917 and 1931, Yerofeyev continues, “not because nothing is being written, drawn or fantasized,” but rather because in Russia “life again has become more interesting than any fantasy. Instead of [Nikolay] Gumilyev, we now have [Boris] Nemtsov forever.”
At some point, the Russian writer says, art will return for us, an art that will lead rather than follow what is taking place in the streets. But when this will happen and who “we” will be are open questions. All that can be said now is that in Russia for the time being “art has ended” and exhibits of contemporary art are in fact shows about the past.