Contemporary Art Market: Dark and affordable visions of new Russia

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A landmark exhibition of contemporary prints from Russia and the Ukraine, distilling the dark imaginings of the psyche during a time of transition - the title of the show - is running at the Bristol Museums and Art Gallery until 10 January.

Unlike most landmark exhibitions, everything is for sale. The Russian and Ukrainian artists produce their prints in small editions, often limited by lack of paper; they are priced between pounds 22 and pounds 600 but mostly under pounds 100. It is an extraordinary opportunity to buy very good art that derives from a historic moment of cultural ferment.

The exhibition was organised by Peter Ford, a Bristol artist who specialises in etching and made his first contacts with Eastern Europe by exhibiting in Poland in 1987. The exhibition derives a special impact from the fact that it was selected with an artist's eye.

Ford likes to underline the important status of graphics in Eastern Europe - they are seen as an art form in their own right, quite distinct from painting.

In this time of turmoil the artists' vision has turned inwards. There are very few explicit references to political upheaval; almost all of are exploring their broken dreams.

The group of realists from St Petersburg are artistically the most impressive. In Alexander Kolokoltsev's After the People Have Gone ( pounds 48) two rabbits hop among the debris of human life in a ruined landscape; Valerii Mishin's Man in a Box ( pounds 130) wears a wire cage round his head although he holds the key in his hand; Konstantin Chmutin's Potato '91 ( pounds 190) is a torso-shaped potato, reminiscent of thalidomide distortions, but with sprouts suggesting hope. Boris Zabirokhin comes closest to depicting everyday reality with his Auntie Klava ( pounds 160), a tough old peasant woman attempting to sell six potatoes, three parsnips and three garlic bulbs.

From the Senej workshop outside Moscow comes a notable line in romantic abstraction. Its director Natalia Zarovnaya produces experimental colour etchings ( pounds 50-150). The workshop used to have the only screenprint facilities in Russia and Alexander Yastrebenetsky works in this medium, also producing abstractions ( pounds 120-150).

From Lvov in the Ukraine come some powerful exponents of dream landscape. Oleg Dergatchov is the most abstract; his An Absurd Landscape ( pounds 80) is a strong evocation of imaginary space created by experimenting with textures. In Pavel Makov's work ( pounds 250) odd chunks of churches, classical columns, folk and fairy debris seem to be blowing in space.

A Time of Transition will be shown in Hull, Ramsgate and other locations during 1993-4.