Landscapes of Heaven

 To paint, you have to just feel it, because if you start to think, it will turn out like crap…


Olga Tobreluts tossed this phrase at me when we were having yet another discussion about creating a sort of new Classical Walpurgis Night from the second part of Faust. The phrase is just as good as the aphorism that Ilya Piganov offered during a discussion of the lighting for his exhibition. In response to my suggestion to draw what he wants, instead of trying to explain it, he bellowed:


                        Draw it? Have you lost your mind?! I am an artist, after all!!


The conviction that artistic talent is above all intuitive, rather than rational, is not particularly new. But today it runs so completely contrary to everything that is considered relevant that it takes on an avant-garde hue, like a phrase from a manifest. You must agree that visiting most of the biennales is like taking a nice walk somewhere like Komarovo, and suddenly stumbling across a garbage dump. You observe it with a consciousness trained by the scientific jargon of the authors of modernism always requiring that art be ad marginem,  «on the edge» you freeze before the profundity of the randomness that has gathered together so many great works. The pale blue of transparent plastic with the half-eroded label AQUA Mi… resembles the tender sighs of Italian postmodernism, preserving the memory of Latin and Dante, having passed through the crucible of the leftist radicalism of arte povera, and starkly contrasting with the loud primitivism of American pop art embodied in the brazen shine of an aluminum Coca Cola can. A lone shoe, helpless and aggressive, with its heel stuck in a matchbox with the image of a bodybuilder, recalls Méret Oppenheim in the most perplexing way, along with the long train of great artists who studied the fine line between a woman’s sexuality and that which makes her an object of male lust. A crushed cheap quartz watch lying on a clump of dried seaweed is the embodiment of Tatsuo Miyajima’s Opposite Harmony, a symbol of technological progress that has lost its functionality and has thus been given a spiritual dimension of Eastern mysticism. Cigarette butts among disposable cups and plates, sad symbols of the daily ritual, pull you into their strange life like Daniel Spoerri’s snares, and force you to rethink, over and over again, what is habitually labeled by our consciousness as «reality». The crumbs of an eggshell distinctly tell of the genius of Marcel Broodthaers, a bestseller at the Miami art fair and a fearless investigator of the ordinary; shards of blue pottery mixed with white gravel speak of the genius of Julian Schnabel, the great end-of-the-century eclectic, brilliantly mixing iconography both high and low; and a newspaper fragment with a nostalgically familiar Soviet design on the front page rings of the genius of Ilya Kabakov, the best Russian artist after Rublev and Repin. And last but not least, there is an armless, legless, headless baby doll, unwielding on top of the pile in the middle of the dump, the alluring enigma of eroticism, Bellmer, Balthus, Dali, Delvaux and Morimura in one body, as well as Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, and Conchita Wurst’s victory over Europe. It is a wonderful panorama of the contemporary: o, yes, dada-darrida-dalida, life is art, and art is life, and the music of Cage is howling over all of it, interspersed with some random pop. Modernism, positioning itself as the art of the future, has been given the prefix «post» and turned into a dump of deep thoughts. Scholarly, but dreary…


Weary of contemplating all the unexpected resemblances with a contemporary art dump, Olga Tobreluts gazed at the sky, and there she saw clouds. Clouds, and nothing else, since to paint you have to just feel it.  Up in the clouds, it was nice and empty, and looking down at the earth, the artist discovered that she sees it the way the Renaissance Italians saw it. Without Coke cans and scraps of newspaper. It is good to look at the earth from the clouds.


Olga Tobreluts does not need an introduction. There were three major events in 1990: the Berlin Wall fell, Olga got a grant at the Berlin ART+COM institute for studying computer graphics, and Timur Novikov founded the New Academy. Olga became one of the most famous representatives of Petersburg neoacademism. From the very start, the New Academy’s main task was creating visual work to counter-balance modernist conceptualism, which was stripped of visuality. Visuality is exactly what separates the New Academy from all the other trends of the end of the century. The task of creating a visual image with the help of painting (so driven away in recent times), photography, or all kinds of new technologies, is in itself quite a conceptual idea, if we take the authentic value of the word concept, the Latin conception, meaning having a guiding idea. The idea of an image of «classics and beauty» during the declarative imagelessness of late modernism sounded sharply radical. At the end of the 20th century, the New Academy seemed a highly avant-garde institution. This is exactly what interested Olga Tobreluts.


As the nineties came to an end and the new millennium began, the huge slug of the 20th century dragged its cumbersome body across yet another obstacle, which consisted of sharp numerals: XXI looks like barbed wire. The year 2000 supposedly should have marked the end of the 20th century, but after scraping its swollen belly on the sharp edges of the Roman numerals, the slug fell into the zeros of the next century and sprawled out in its beginning, half-dead, decomposing, badly stinking, yet still aggressively alive. Who knows when and how the still-20th century will end. Everyone everywhere who is currently in a position to influence anything grew up in its bowels  - the 20th century formed their bodies and souls in its own image and likeness; and those who the new millennium will belong to have barely learned to read and write, and whether they can ever learn to do that intelligibly remains to be seen.


As befits an artist, Olga Tobreluts reacts to the times with sensitivity, and right around the year 2000 created the series Emperor and Galilean along the themes of an Ibsen play: a sort of reflection on the dawn of a new age. The theme of emperor Julian the Apostate trying to resurrect the Olympian gods in a new era couldn’t be better fit to this time that we often call the «end of post-modernism» for lack of a better term. Emperor and Galilean ended up being a bold line drawn under the 20th century. Continuing to experiment with new technologies, the artist Olga Tobreluts became ever more interested in painting and in those who are unjustly called the  «old masters». How old can they be, if they are exhibited now? Painting is a type of art chased away by radical modernist critics, but Tobreluts devoted several years to the huge canvas Battle of the Nudes created under the influence of Italian Renaissance art: Pollaiolo, Mantegna and Michelangelo. This project, Landscapes of Heaven, combines painting and video, and it can be recognized as Ernste Spiele, a «serious game» – this was the name of an exhibition dedicated to German romanticism from Friedrich to Beuys. Olga Tobreluts’ painting presents the same landscapes that are before the eyes of those raised to heaven, be it Ganymede, Saint Katherine, or an airplane passenger. There is a desire for calm and sky - and for some German romantic music.


Arcady Ippolitov




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