By Victor Mikhailov
Painter Ruslan Vashkevich is quite a noticeable figure on the art stage of contemporary Belarusian art. Many remembered him by his flamboyant appearance, as well as his ironic creativity. He is known in Belarus and beyond, having given personal exhibitions in Minsk, Moscow, Amsterdam, Paris, Granada, Chicago, Tallinn, Rome and Kiev. Mr. Vashkevich’s works were on show at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005 and are kept at the National Art Museum of Belarus and Modern Fine Arts Museum in Minsk, alongside the Museum of Contemporary Russian Art in New York, Moscow’s Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of New Art in Parnu, as well as in private collections.
What is the significance of his recent exhibition showcased at the major museum of the country? He explains that it’s a conceptual rethinking of the function and status of a museum in contemporary culture, saying it is a ‘rehearsal of a museum — a model of artistic intervention, masked in golden frames true to scale’. His ‘museum’ has no borders, whether between the past and the present or art and non-art. The distance between great masters and ordinary spectators disappears, as does the border between classical painting and adverts. It challenges the idea of a museum as ‘a bastion of cultural respectability’ whose works are only worthy of judgment by ‘professionals’. He believes art is for everyone, since it encapsulates our universal life experience. Ruslan’s project asks us to ponder how museums can be contemporary, interactive and provoking, as well as educational and entertaining.
He also offers insight into how artists assess one another’s works, looking at the evolution of art through the ages, from the use of simple brushes to computer special effects. Over twenty of his works are on show, with his new pieces neighbouring the already well known ‘old’ pictures, inviting us to compare and bring new interpretations.
The post-modernist ideas of sequence and order (still allowing for an author’s unique vision) are applied by Ruslan as a potentially limitless resource for artistic experimentation through various genres and techniques. He shows us that each painter’s relationship with the artistic traditions of the past is irrefutable. To say that an artist refuses or accepts such traditions is too narrow a statement; all art proceeds from that which came before, according to Mr. Vashkevich. He believes our study of the history of art not only teaches us about form and style but allows us to re-assess values, modernising and refreshing our world perception.
Although this isn’t a retrospective, the exhibition gives an insight into the range of the painter’s artistic search. Painting is replaced with installations and supreme ‘dedications’ to Velasquez. A row of photos stand alongside sketches and reproductions, embracing classical still-life themes, the erotic and the sinister. Meanwhile, the classical traditions of the past are the prototype for contemporary advertisements.