At the intersection of Nevsky Prospect and the Griboyedov Canal, one can see some of the most famous sites in St. Petersburg – from the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood to the Kazansky Cathedral. Just a five minute walk from here, past the famous Bank Bridge with the golden-winged griffons, there is the unassuming Name Gallery.
Opened in 2007, the gallery decided to do an overhaul in 2011 that gave it a new name and a new intention for exhibiting art. “Name” is representative of the gallery’s intention to present names of new artists to the public. It hopes to exhibit works that create a dialogue between modernism and postmodernism, leaving the viewer filled with questions and curiosity.
The current exhibition, “Altar of Thyatira,” by Ilya Gaponov, a thought-provoking collection of paintings, perfectly complements the gallery’s goal.
In 1981, Gaponov was born in Kemerovo, an industrial town northeast of Novosibirsk. He attended the Kemerovo Art School and planned to study iconography further. However, in 2001, he went to the St. Petersburg State Academy of Art to study monumental painting. In 2004, he received a grant for further training at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. After graduating in 2007, two schoolmates joined him in the creation of Unconquered, a non-profit organization that provides art workshops for young artists. Housed in a former missile factory, Unconquered provides 12 studios, a silk-screen printing workshop, and an exhibition hall. Gaponov has stayed busy as an artist as well, taking part in number of group and personal exhibitions in Russia since his return to his homeland .
Ilya Gaponov’s works are grandiose in size and meaning. “Altar of Thyatira” was inspired by a passage in the Book of Revelation (2:18-29), in which Jesus challenges the church of Thyatira to stop following the false prophetess, Jezebel, who was a sexual seducer that lured the Christians to eat that which should be sacrificed. Gaponov paints vanitas, Latin for “vanity,” a baroque-style still life that is also known as memento mori, or “Remember Your Mortality.” This genre of art incorporates symbolism to remind the viewer of the impermanence of life. Skulls represent the inevitability of death; rotten fruit represents aging, and so on. Objects are often in disarray to symbolize the end of their usefulness.
Gaponov does not merely follow the rules of the genre. He incorporates modern elements into his pieces, such as McDonald’s hamburgers, a vacuum cleaner, a tea kettle, and assorted animals, including a shaved Chihuahua. He also adds the element of human figures, which is a rarity for the art form. In one painting, there is a plump baby, symbolizing the loss of innocence, cryptically lying next to a large rib-cage, which signifies death. In another painting, two feet nailed with holes (Jesus Christ) hang amidst a row of skulls. Other portraits have iconography in the background. Everything, from religion to sexuality, becomes ephemeral in his works.
“(His work) is about spirituality and morality or, rather, their absence in the world,” wrote Alexandra Rudryk, an art critic with Interview Magazine (Russia). “The muted, dark colors, dark gold, and epic themes slowly absorb the viewer’s attention. Here comes a state of torpor, to which is added something hostile.” The dark colors are no accident – to achieve them, Gaponov uses Kuzbass (coal-tar) varnish and bitumen varnish, a substance extracted from pit-mining (tar sands). One of the largest coal deposits in the world is in Kuzbass, a nickname for the Kuznetsk Basin in the Kemerovo region. These products are slowly becoming popular among contemporary artists. For Gaponov, they have an ecological symbolism for mining in Russia.
Gaponov is also currently exhibiting works at a gallery in London. One of Gaponov’s foremost collectors is Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian billionare who also owns the London Evening Standard and has been active in liberal political causes and pushing for transparency in the corportate governance of the businesses he invests in. At Gapanov’s London opening, Lebedev said “everything about Gaponov’s work speaks to his disillusionment with the excessive consumption of contemporary society.” This was considered a “seal of approval” by local magazines, but Gaponov still has a ways to go as an international artist.
Name Gallery has certainly stimulated dialogue among art critics and everyday visitors. Don’t forget to stop by after gazing at the famous monuments and cathedrals of Nevsky Prospect in St. Petersburg! Even if you’ve missed this exhibition, the next one is bound to captivate.
Details: Please see site for map. The gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11-7pm. Free to all!