This exhibition celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the scandalous publication, in 1968, of The Crisis of Ugliness by Soviet philosopher and art critic Mikhail Lifshitz.
The book was an anthology of polemical texts against Cubism and Pop Art—and one of the only intelligent discussions of modernism’s social context and overall logic available in the Soviet Union—making it popular even among those who disagreed with Lifshitz’s conclusions.
The result of a three-year Garage Field Research project, If our soup can could speak takes as its starting point Lifshitz’s book and other related writings to re-explore the vexed relations between progressive art and politics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as well as the motivations and implications of Lifshitz’s lonely crusade against the modern classics. Using archival material, reproductions, original artworks, fragments of films, and performative elements, the exhibition reveals how Lifshitz’s scathing critique of modernism’s complicity with totalitarianism and consumerism has more in common with contemporaries like Theodor Adorno or Guy Debord than with standard-issue Soviet condemnations of art from the West. Accordingly, the project provides a subtle, richly-sourced discussion around the contradictions of “art after art,” seen at a remove from behind the Iron Curtain, full of incisive observations and creative misunderstandings. An untimely, even tragic figure, Lifshitz’s radical Hegelian diagnosis of an ailing world spirit seems more relevant than ever.
Initiated by artist-curators David Riff and Dmitry Gutov, the initial Field Research project (through which the exhibition was developed) involved a combination of archival mining, translation, and creative explorations of the controversial themes and dramatic historical contexts of Mikhail Lifshitz’s work. Since November 2015, the research team has reviewed more than 200 folders of documents from public archives such as the Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts (RGALI) and the State Tretyakov Gallery, as well as the private archives of Lifshitz’s daughter, Anna Pichikyan, and others. Retrieved documents include unpublished questionnaires, records of political purges, correspondence, manuscripts, stenographs of Lifshitz's lectures, personal photographs, and Lifshitz’s unpublished, rediscovered dissertation. These more conventional research methods were complemented by a large-scale visual experiment—both online and offline—into the references and sources of Lifshitz’s work and its institutional and everyday contexts, as seen in pictures and films.
Artists include: Rudolf Baranov, Albrecht Dürer, Oleg Filatchev, Valery Khabarov, Larisa Kirillova, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol.