A look into the lesser-known contemporary art scene in Russia’s cultural capital
St Petersburg has long been a capital of arts and culture for Russia and the rest of the world. The great architectural, artistic, and cultural triumphs of the Russian Empire continue to attract tourists, scholars, and artists alike, maintaining St Petersburg’s reputation as a cultural capital. With globally renowned museums and historical sites such as the State Hermitage, Russian Museum, Peter and Paul Fortress, St Isaac’s Cathedral, and countless more, it is easy to fill up an entire vacation just seeing classical art museums and cathedrals. A great way to experience the modern culture of this historical city is to visit smaller contemporary art galleries and get on the ground with locals who know their way around the art scene here in St Petersburg. Be sure to check out these three artists while in St Petersburg.
Alexander Dashevskiy, born and raised in St Petersburg, has been showing his artwork for twenty years. Totaling around 100 exhibitions, Dashevskiy has shown work in solo and group exhibitions, art fairs, and private collections around the world. His work can be found locally in the collection of Erarta Museum and frequently on the walls and floors of the Anna Nova Gallery, where he just wrapped up a solo exhibition titled “A Pack of Malingerers.” This exhibition was in response to what the art world sometimes refers to as “the death of paintings.” Dashevskiy stretched canvas in irregular shapes that gave his paintings three-dimensionality and the opportunity to be free from a flat background. One subject matter he is interested in portraying is abandoned swimming pools and other forgotten relics of the Soviet era, opening up a visual conversation about the decomposing remains of what were once seen as images of a great and everlasting future. Dashevskiy spoke of how he got his start as an artist in St Petersburg. He believes that getting established as an artist in Russia was easier for his generation than it is for young artists now, citing the divide between the more conservative art community and more contemporary as reason for this. Nonetheless, Dashevskiy has and continues to enjoy success as an artist is St Petersburg, and his work is some to check out if given the chance.
Originally from Belarus, Anastasia Avraliova moved to St Petersburg eight years ago to study painting at the Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, formerly and colloquially known simply as “Mukha.” She is interested in creating and understanding visual messages, using pictures to communicate instead of words. There is something natural and universal about this type of visual communication that does not have the kinds of limitations that language does. One way Avraliova makes these visual messages is by using simple and accessible materials, such as markers and plain copy paper. She will sit on her bed and listen to a song or spend time with a friend for inspiration, and then freely mark the paper, creating what she calls “energy portraits.” Avraliova’s energy portraits capture the feeling of being around someone in a way that is organic and strives towards the idea of visual messages. In addition to working small-scale with inexpensive materials, Avraliova also has a partnership with St Anne’s Lutheran Church at Kirochnaya ul, 8В. The church, which still remains open for visitors both secular and religious and offers service every Sunday, suffered a bad fire and the interior remains damaged from the burn. Avraliova has painted biblical scenes in the basement chapel, completed two stained-glass windows, and has plans to complete all the stained-glass windows in the church in the future. Avraliova believes in art being integrated into society, advocating for art to be accessible and non-exclusive.
Vlad Kulkov moved to St Petersburg at age 17 to study ironworking at the Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design before switching his focus to art history and art theory. He is a life-long artist and has received great support of his career from his family, colleagues, and professors at university. Kulkov still references his metalworking background in his current artwork, such as in a recent series of bronze cast sculptures, some of which can be seen behind the bar upstairs at the Anna Nova Gallery at Zhukovskogo ul, 28. Also using bronze, Kulkov works with metal casting in a non-traditional way, using mounds of ice and snow instead of a hand-sculpted mold from wax. This method results in organic and unusual forms created by the molten bronze melting its way through the ice and snow. In addition to sculpture, Kulkov works mostly on paintings, large and small. Kulkov had his first large show at the age of 23 at the Regina Gallery in Moscow, with whom he has a long-standing partnership with. His work has been shown in solo exhibitions at numerous galleries in St Petersburg and Moscow, as well as in group exhibitions in and outside of Russia, including Latvia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, and Korea.
The contemporary art scene in a city as historic as St Petersburg is strong and legitimate, and is ready to be recognized. Great places to see the artists mentioned above, as well as the rest of the vast art community, are the Anna Nova Gallery (Zhukovskogo ul, 28), Myth Gallery (Chaykovskogo ul, 61), Name Gallery (Bolshaya Konyushennaya, 2), and Erarta Museum (29 Liniya Vasil’yevskogo Ostrova, 2).