The Moscow Museum of Modern Art with the support of Aksenov Family Foundation presents «Alexander Kosolapov. Lenin Coca-Cola» — the first exhibition to be held in Russia of Russian-American artist Alexander Kosolapov (b. 1943), one of the pioneers of Sots Art. Curated by American art-critic and poet Carter Ratcliff, the exhibition covers forty years of the artist’s career and includes 120 works from both public and private collections.
Following Sergey Sitar’s exhibition design concept, based on the curator’s research of Kosolapov’s artistic career, the exhibition space is divided into thirteen thematic blocks arranged in chronological order and forming a coherent narrative. The exhibition is designed in a way so as to gradually familiarize the viewer with Kosolapov’s work. On entering the exhibition space, viewers immediately face works that convey the idea of the similarity between capitalist and socialist systems, deemed mutually opposing, which serve as a clue for understanding Kosolapov’s output. The profile of Lenin on Coca-Cola bottle labels illustrates the exhibition title and is one example from the series of juxtapositions between friend and foe, the Soviet and the Western, the glamorous and the sacral.
The «Lenin-Coca-Cola» series is followed by the works of the Moscow period showing how it all started. Wooden sculptures such as an oversized door latch or a meat grinder pay tribute to the visual language of Pop Art. These are Kosolapov’s first experiments with binary juxtapositions, attempts to draw connections between the visual form of an idea, its sculptural embodiment and words that could epitomize it. Moving from one exhibit to another one observes the evolution of the artist’s thought and his growing interest in political themes. During Khrushchev’s Thaw and Brezhnevian Stagnation the government informally granted non-official artists the freedom to work with experimental art forms and censored themes. However this art could only be produced privately with no access to wider audiences. Kosolapov felt that Sots Art with its ironic teasing of the regime would never be allowed to express itself openly. The authorities clearly manifested its attitude to non-official art by destroying the «Bulldozer show» (1974). Kosolapov’s installation titled «Bulldozer Show» reconstructed in the following hall represents a pivotal point both in the exhibition narrative and the career of Kosolapov himself who in 1975 emigrated from the USSR to the USA, thus moving from one social, political, economic and cultural environment to another.
The following eleven blocks show Kosolapov’s Sots Art in a state of emigration. By using various visual languages and devices (Pop Art, Socialist Realism, found object) and combining symbols of two opposing ideologies, Kosolapov elaborates on the key motif of his work — the similarity between the Soviet regime and American capitalist society. Works from the «Old-Master Painting» hall attack the meaning behind these ideological systems exposing them as flimsy and ossified. The absurd and farcical collision of Disney cartoon characters and communist leaders incites us to challenge the truthfulness and adequacy of the two systems. Consumerism alone is assaulted in Kosolapov’s «Caviar» (1990) — here the artist refutes Warhol’s statement that American consumerist society democratically offers the same things to everybody by underscoring that luxury goods are still unavailable for those not wealthy enough. He also mocks the idea of the continuity between old-master painting and Socialist Realism. Through such works as «Red Venus» (1986), «Suzanna and the Elders» (1984) and the «The Five Year Plan» triptych (1985), Kosolapov defies the pretence that Soviet art was a successor to the grand tradition of Leonardo da Vinci and Velazquez.
Throughout decades of its existence Kosolapov’s work spurred a variety of responses. Once Marvel comic-book writer Stan Lee expressed his appreciation to Kosolapov in a letter after seeing his «Thwip!» (1985) published in Artforum. A red banner with its slogan «Long Live the Dictatorship of the Proletariat» (1982) which was hung outside the «Kitchen» performance center during the «Kazimir Passion» group performances that took place there prompted neighbors to call the F.B.I. By his masterfully orchestrated collisions of incompatible values Kosolapov calls into question various ideologies thus undermining their claim to monopoly over truth. The artist aims to awaken viewers to the current realities and remind them that one can trust only one’s own thoughts and feelings.
Alexander Kosolapov was born in 1943 in Moscow. In 1968 he graduated from the sculptural department of the Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts. Before immigrating to the USA, Kosolapov shared the same studio with such artists as Leonid Sokov and Boris Orlov. His first works in the vein of Pop Art as well as politically-inflected pieces were produced in the period from 1972 to 1974. In 1975 Alexander Kosolapov was one of the first amongst Sots Art artists to emigrate to New-York, USA, where he lives and works now. Alexander Kosolapov’s paintings and sculptures are featured in public collections including the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the State Russian Museum, the Albertina (Vienna, Austria), MoMA (New York), the New York Public Library, Sébastien Bertrand Gallery (Geneva, Switzerland); as well as private collections of Arnaud Sarad (Paris, France), Vladimir and Ekaterina Semenikhin, Dmitry Aksenov, Igor Tsukanov, Stella Kesaeva, Shalva Breus.
Carter Ratcliff (b.1941, Seattle, USA) is an art critic, writer and poet. Ratcliff earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Chicago. He has published reviews and essays in major art journals. His monographs include Andy Warhol (Abbeville Press, 1983), Andy Warhol: Portraits (Phaidon Press, 2006), Komar and Melamid (Abbeville Press, 1989), Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures 1971-1985 (CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, 1986), Alex Katz (Phaidon Press, 2006), Georgia O’Keeffe (Kunstshaus Zürich, 2003), The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), Willem de Kooning: The North Atlantic Light (Stedelijk Museum, 1983), and Francis Bacon (Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, 1998).
Aksenov Family Foundation is a dynamic mobile platform which fosters cultural and social innovation. The Foundation is engaged in permanent research of the scope and boundaries of the culture sector and in the elaboration of systems to evaluate the special social contribution of contemporary art and culture and also develops general awareness of culture by stimulating dialogue and exchange of ideas and enhances cultural engagement on public and private levels. The Foundation aims to raise the involvement in the development of culture in the public and individual levels.