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The works of thirty two artists Ц ranging from the miniscule to the simply not very big Ц comprise the exhibition Small, which is dedicated to Igor Guelman. The idea for the exhibition belongs and first show (in the Kingsgate Gallery, London) to him. He did not have time to realize it in Msocow, but he did create a lot of small format works, some of which are part of the show. The character who runs through all of these works is a little man made out of staples, tentative and expressive, like a hieroglyph of a recognizable life situation. Igor Guelman created a small man's world, which calls to mind a toy Barbie world, only much more diverse, witty, and cynical, of course.
There is a deep (perhaps national) feeling for the tiny as the embodiment of the ingeniously deft. This feeling is mythologized in the character of Levsha [literally:"left-handed man"], who brought into being through irrational and meticulous effort a deep understanding of art as something useless and awe-inspiring.
Partly due to such expenditure of effort, which is near and dear to the national spirit but is also difficult to achieve, and partly due to the context of the large-scale, trend-forming activities of the M&J Guelman Gallery, the new exhibition is already called Russian petit Ц and this name is more of a working title than an ironic gesture.
The exhibition Small presents the viewer with an incredibly broad spectrum of formal, thematic, and even institutional subjects for which the small format becomes an independent, unique quality.
Some of the objects can a priori only come in small sizes: for example, jewlry (Alexey Kallima), medals (Gosha Ostretsov NG Medals and Emperor Wawa Artklyazma Medal), coins (Kirill Shamanov), or stamps (Konstantin Kalendaryov).
Other artists work with small formats for their own private reasons, among which perhaps the most common one is that small things and their production come so naturally to us. Smallness of every kind and in any genre fits organically with everyday human movement. Even Valery Koshlyakov, who normally works on a monumental scale, creates small collages out of photographs and drawings on transparent film. Pavel Peppershtein exhibits elegantly his small sketches Ц they are shown in folders on a drawing pad. Smallness equalizes artists of different ages and different degrees of fame. Sculptures in various sizes of smallness Ц those of Tatiana Antoshina, Igor Guelman, Maxim Mamsikov, Zlata Pоnirovskaya, and others Ц coexist easily in a common exhibition space.
Things that are small can also fill space and cover surfaces. Anatoly Zhuravlev is obviously an artist who thinks small even when he creates two-meter mirror surfaces with an image-defect in the center. (At this exhibition, he presents small works with clear collectible connotations). Previously, he had made surfaces and spatial installations out of microscopic portraits; these are the works that made his name widely known. The young artist Nastya Ryabova presents a visually similar but more communication oriented series Stickers Ц Din. Yet another manifestation of her project Sticker against everybody also covers the space of a wall, only a wall in the street rather than in a gallery.
Mikhail Lyozin (the series Portraits from the COVER gallery project) presents the possibility of reading space as a place of art's secret intervention and reminds one of the strategies of artists and graffitists, for example, who places his works in museums between Old Master paintings. Lyozin's project COVER gallery is a "personal portable gallery of the parasitic kind"; it exists paradoxically between visibility and anonymity on the territory of other exhibitions and lasts until someone notices it.
The institutional dimension of small art has entered history together with the Overcoat Gallery of Alexander Petrelli, who proclaimed that "overcoat=gallery." At the exhibition, we see a series of overcoat-galleries, and this, perhaps, is the clearest manifestation of smallness as also that quality which makes possible the playful strategies of institutionality (not simulative at all), that quality which makes the art institution into a work of art. To offer art through the inappropriate and contraband-like gesture of throwing wide open one's overcoat is in and of itself a funny and shocking performance, which, of course, would not have turned into a regular occurrence if the gallery tradition of selling art didn't stand behind it.
The exhibition Small is an array of excellent examples of thinking within the material when an artist can turn anything that crosses his path into art.
Text: Alexander Evangely
Translation: Ksenya Gurshtein