Moscow, Malevich and Saddam Hussein

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Sometimes I just reject art that’s difficult, but sometimes it makes me want to think and dig all the harder. Dig I did for Nick Muellner’s “Moscow Plastic Arts” photos at Arcadia University Art Gallery.

The photographs are construction related–brutish concrete blocks, bricks, haphazardly layed out squares for concrete pours, bags of cement, upside down utility buckets, improbably stacked lumber or other material, etc. All were taken in Moscow in 2003 and 2005 by the Ithaca-based artist.

The delicate tints add an otherworldly glow to these images; the manilla paper on which the photos are printed seem nostalgic, like dusty archive files. The aesthetics of these material choices oppose the brutishness of the photographed objects, which land with a Minimalist, anti-gestural thud. The art historical references turn leaden concrete blocks into Suprematist Soviet thankas (see top image).

Many of the pictures suggest grand public works (see steps below). The arrangement of some of the objects suggest fallen bodies and lopped off heads (see images right above and to the left). I immediately thought of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled from its pedestal. And indeed, the notes discuss the political battles following the Bolshevik revolution over which public statues from the past must be destroyed, which preserved.

The whole enterprise drips with Post-Modern cynicism and jokiness. After all, Muellner never shows his hand on what or who he admires. He’s more about what he sees as human shortcomings–politics, the self-delusion of the state rewriting its own history and abandoning the past, the heroic Social Realist vocabulary of the worker’s state in disarray.

I’m not sure everyone will like this show. But I did. Plus I liked taking home my free little catalog, also printed on manilla stock (only one to a person, the sign said). The exhibit runs until Dec. 18.

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