Between Heaven and Earth: Contemporary Art from the Centre of Asia, Calvert 22, London

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The Independent Culture

This is a brave and interesting show. It is no small feat to endeavour to make sense of the contemporary art scenes across the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and also to take a quick shortcut through Afghanistan and Mongolia into the bargain. What is more, the curator, David Elliott, founding director of the Mori Museum in Tokyo, is a good man to do the choosing.





There are about 20 artists or artists' collectives on display here, and the works include examples of film, ceramics, sculpture, textiles, photography and painting. Unsurprisingly, the entire show feels as if it is hanging suspended between here and there, the here of the present or near present (which would include the global influence of artists of international renown from Joseph Beuys to Philip Guston) and the far of the long and topsy-turvy history of these places, which might take in everything from the long shadow of Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine, the aftermath of the Great Game, through to evidence of the protracted hangover of communist rule.



In fact, some of the best works in the show are still laughing at the absurdities of communism. Erbossyn Meldibekov from Kazakhstan has done a series of small bronze portrait busts, using as his prototype Soviet busts of Lenin. So here we have Giacometti (head squeezed nearly flat like that of a typical Giacometti sculpture) sitting beside Patrice Lumumba, Lenin and Genghis Khan on a white plinth, all dubious heroes (or anti-heroes) of a kind. Nothing like whittling the past down to size after it has ceased to threaten. The brutal clash between past and present is most vividly presented in an entire series of wall-hung, painted and collaged ceramic plates. At the centre of one plate, a timeless-looking dromedary pulls a load that could only have been gifted it by the present: a nest of sky-tilted missiles. Downstairs, this same artist has created a series of celebrated "mountain peaks" from battered saucepans and cardboard.



Other works of real panache include a couple of marvellously zestful paintings done in a traditional Buddhist zurag style by the Mongolian painter Baasanjav Choijiljavin. The manner of painting may be traditional, but the subject matter – one of them is deliciously entitled The Taste of Money In-Between Clouds – is as brutal as capitalism itself when it is allowed to run amok.

To 13 November (0207 613 2141)

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