Released for the opening of the exhibition Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow, the new Garage PRO publication by Garage and Ad Marginem Press contains a selection of writings by influential Russian art historian and curator Joseph Backstein, who also witnessed the only international art auction to have taken place in the Soviet Union.
For forty years Joseph Backstein has played a key role in the development and critical analysis of Soviet and Russian contemporary art. He started writing on art in the 1970s, influenced by his former classmate Alexander Melamid, who was then studying art at Stroganov School. The two remained close until Melamid moved to the USA. In 1973, Backstein met Ilya Kabakov: conversations with the artist informed his later critical work. His debut curatorial projects followed over a decade later: in 1987 and 1988 Backstein curated some of the first exhibitions of the Club of Avant-Garde Artists.
Relegated to private apartments and in the countryside during its underground years, the Russian contemporary art scene took an even stranger shape as it resurfaced during perestroika. ‘Artists could finally exhibit their works, but there were no spaces for exhibiting them,’ Backstein recalls. In 1988, he organized a Moscow conceptualist action at Sandunovskie Baths, where Srednerusskaya Vozvyshennost group also shot one of their music videos. In 1992, with the help of politician Galina Starovoitova, he exhibited works by Kabakov, Chuikov, Elagina, and Pivovarov in Butyrskaya Prison. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Backstein also initiated his first international projects: the exhibition IsKunstvo shown in West Berlin (1988) and in Stockholm (1990); Between Spring and Summer at a number of US galleries (1990–1991) and MANI Museum. 40 Moscow Artists in Frankfurt (1991). Most texts in the collection are from or about these years.
The collection, edited by an ICA Moscow alumna Aleksandra Shestakova, contains thirty-seven articles and interviews written or taken from 1979 to 2011, as well as many photographs of some of Backstein’s landmark exhibitions and documenting his later activities as commissioner for the Moscow Biennale and the founder and director of the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Art.
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