Taken in by a urinal
Film director and producer Andrei Konchalovsky shares his views on art criticism ahead of an annual art forum.
Published: November 9, 2011 (Issue # 1682)
Film director Andrei Konchalovsky is the curator of this year’s forum.
It’s difficult nowadays to find a good art critic with an original point of view, according to film director and screenwriter Andrei Konchalovsky, organizer and curator of the Art & Reality Annual International Forum.
On the eve of this year’s forum, which takes place in St. Petersburg from Nov. 25 to 27 and focuses on the topic of art criticism, Konchalovsky talked to The St. Petersburg Times about the modern art critic, conforming and the fate of Russian art.
Why was St. Petersburg chosen as the location for the forum?
Petersburg is the European capital of Russia. St. Petersburg is in every way the “window to the west,” and it is intellectual. The Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library kindly offered to host the event as it was specially created for this type of intellectual meeting.
Why now, in 2011, is it so important to draw the public’s attention to the problems of contemporary art and the figure of the art critic in particular?
When we think about art critics, it is necessary to notice that they are becoming more and more uniform. Bright names are vanishing. Critics with independent, self-sufficient, maybe even controversial but interesting points of view on art are very rare.
Some years ago, 200 art critics were asked to name an outstanding work of contemporary fine art. The number one choice was … Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” [a urinal]. I believe that half of these critics inwardly, secretly don’t agree that the most outstanding product of the 20th century is a urinal! I consider it a shame to give in to the conformist herd instinct, a dictatorship of political correctness, a fear of going against the grain and looking unmodern.
It seems they know what Duchamp wrote in 1962: “I have thrown a urinal in their faces and now they admire its aesthetic perfection.” That is frank recognition that the young Duchamp wasn’t trying to express his representation of beauty and its comprehension, he simply wanted to spit in the face of critics and viewers, which was necessary in order to shock them. To tell the truth, shame on them, or rather, maybe they should be pitied.
What do you think the participants of future forums are going to be like?
People who have something to say, who are capable of expressing their point of view on modern art, on the condition of the relationship between critics and modern art… Also those who have nothing to add, but want to learn and listen, because for them the forum is no less important than for the ones who are going to speak.
What is your vision and image of the contemporary art critic?
It doesn’t seem to me that a modern art critic should differ from an “unmodern” art critic. Just as they did a hundred years ago, they should sincerely try to understand the artist, the creator, instead of paying attention to what is fashionable at the moment. Unfortunately, the majority of critics today try to outdo each other with their knowledge [of art] instead of simply trying to explain and understand the artist in a humanistic way. If they don’t understand it, it’s better to say, “I do not understand,” than to write an infinite number of pages of intellectual masturbation about this modern conceptual “masterpiece.”
What perspectives and new opportunities will the forum offer young participants?
It will enable them to think a bit more about the fate of European and Russian fine art in particular — where it’s going and if it’s possible to estimate the losses already incurred.
Of what interest is the forum to professionals in the art market?
I don’t know, I am not a professional. I am just a thinking person.
Is the forum dedicated to international development trends in the art market, or is it mainly focused on trends in Russia? What are its main features and problems?
I don’t know. I am not an art dealer. I only know one thing: The trend that can be labeled the “art of marketing art” is becoming more important and almost like propaganda. The art of marketing has become more important than the art itself. This is clear if we look at what kind of artists are becoming best sellers today.
I have already made myself hoarse saying that [artistic] fraud is on the rise. People are charging high prices for pieces that shouldn’t even be called works of art.
The Art & Reality Annual International Forum takes place from Nov. 25 to 27 at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library, 3 Senatskaya Ploshchad. M. Sennaya Ploshchad / Sadovaya. Tel. 305 1621. For more information or to register for the forum (before Nov. 15), visit www.aifaar.com.