Ivan Chuikov: And a beautiful view from the window

3 February - 21 March 2021

Ivan Chuikov is an artist whose works, without any doubts, will be included in the yet to be written History of Russian Contemporary as a single volume, so original and influential is his work. Despite going through the canonical stages of conservative Soviet education as a university art student (that is, through Plastic Anatomy, Composition, Perspective, and the like), he had a relatively broad artistic outlook since his youth. He knew quite well Modernism thanks to the extensive home library of his parents, artists who had graduated from VKhUTEMAS.

In 1957, Chuikov came into contact with foreign contemporary art at the World Festival of Youth and Students, where he saw what in our country was called "Formalism" in painting (namely, Abstract Expressionism). In the sixties, he worked as a teacher, and, like almost all young artists of that time, he was influenced by Surrealism. Already then, he began to think about the vulnerability of the modernist attitude towards the signature of the author, as it is shown in one of his first works on the theme of windows made in 1967.

Since then, windows have become the subject in which the artist has invested most of his energy. Chuikov called the window a reified metaphor of the gaze (and not a metaphor of the picture, the easiest of all suggestions). Accordingly, his painted images were not directly correlated with the window frames. They entered into various, often unexpected relationships with them.

These relations between the window space and the image space spurred the following theme, which largely determined Chuikov's work: fragments, although formally the artist came up with the idea to reproduce the printing design technique seen on posters. "As a matter of fact, I just wanted to paint a picture, but to paint it in a different way, making some new, unexpected move, designed to make the most different forms of representation clash in one visual series, sometimes in one picture" (I. Chuikov in conversation with V. Tupitsyn).

By using fragments of other people's images – details of postcards, posters, paintings, Chuikov undertakes the question of the visual ready-made, the ready sign, pictogram, symbol, or letter. Within the broad context of ready-made images, the artist once and for all goes beyond the narrow reference group of "modern art", as pop artists once did. Signs are dissected in many different ways: such as zooming, cupping, and perspective distortion. Chuikov's methods are incredibly contemporary. He even anticipates many algorithms of computer design. However, in addition to his masterly skills with a flat image, his works contain a significant component concerning the perception of visual language – the psychology of image perception.

This is a fundamental aspect of the artist's work, which is present in all his seemingly formal searches. That is, in the following order, windows-fragments-signs, there is no historical linearity. Each of them echoes more or less the idea of the border with reality and the possibility of its reinterpretation. The artist has repeatedly said that the acquisition of freedom, including creative freedom, is possible only with the establishment and awareness of the boundaries of the method itself – here, you can feel the influence of Rene Magritte, which Ivan Chuikov has many times admitted. Having accepted Magritte's masterly technique of cutting and displacing of the image, Chuikov fearlessly leaves the cozy field of the canvas and transfers his experiments to the three-dimensional space (Magritte only rarely did that).

In 1977-78, Chuikov created the series "Mirrors", which deals with the various possibilities of the appearance of an image on both sides of the mirror, the mirror of the imaginary. Fourteen years later, in the gallery recently opened by Vladimir Ovcharenko, Chuikov continued the theme of the mirror in the installation "Theory of Reflections I". Inside large wooden arches-portals "through the looking glass", Chuikov presented a series of various reflections of the same still life consisting of a bottle, a glass, and an apple. These different visual versions receive here connotations of different cognitive possibilities of consciousness, and the author does not give preference to any of them. In 1992, for a newborn country, the Russian Federation, the Chuikov project was a kind of Pantone fan that could help self-determination.

The OVCHARENKO gallery shows this legendary installation together with the series "Signs, Second Hand", consisting of nine objects – windows on which fragments of famous symbols are painted. The artist believed that these signs, long deprived of their original meaning, had become a popular element of exchange and consumption in modern society. However, instead of devaluation, they are reincarnated, imbued again with evil power. In 2015, when these works were first exhibited in the gallery, Chuikov illustrated the turn of the country and its society towards the past and the reincarnation of previously discarded ideologies – the artist warned about the danger of infection from this type of second-hand.

Russian contemporary art theoretician Boris Groys once admitted that he created the well-known definition of "Moscow Romantic Conceptualism" thinking about the art of Ivan Chuikov and its illusory and picturesque virtues. However, today, as time passes, it becomes evident that Chuikov's attempts to show the limits of the possibilities of the pictorial language by using this language are much more conceptual than texts in the painting. And it would be pertinent to think that the romantic accent was suggested by Ivan Semyonovich's personality, by his openness to everything new, relentless searching, and experimenting.

Evgenia Kikodze


The installation "Theory of Reflections I" (1978-1992) is provided by Stella Art Foundation.