The beginnings of the collection were laid in 1991, and today it reveals to visitors a whole world of the living cultural evolution of St Petersburg from the first decades of the 20th century right up to the present. These include paintings, drawings, sculptures, applied artworks, collages, objects, and installations. The collection also presents a rich roll of names of outstanding artists, both those whose creative endeavours gave expression to accumulated cultural experience and those who promoted and embodied in their work the latest advancements in contemporary art that imbibed the restless spirit of experimentation.
Paintings and graphic art from the early decades of the 20th century are the pride of the Museum of 20th–21st Century Art of St Petersburg (MASP). This period is mainly represented by artists close to the Krug khudozhnikov (Circle of Artists,1926–1932): Viacheslav Pakulin, Aleksei Pochtenny, Aleksander Rusakov, David Zagoskin, Lidia Timoshenko, Aleksander Vedernikov, and others. Their work was always marked by a noble intimacy of content, high professional mastery, taste and a particular aesthetic of the painterly vision. In the main, those artists painted their native city, filling the modest subject matter with a profoundly personal attitude precious to each of them, sincerity of feeling and impressions of a romantic nature.
The MASP collection also presents other highly interesting strata within the landscape culture of the first quarter of the 20th century. The works by Viktor Proshkin and Pavel Ab, for example, were executed in an entirely different style, known as the thematic picture.
In that period, the portrait genre developed following the same intimate vector in Leningrad creative practice. Among the notable portraits from this period are the works of Viktoria Belakovskaia and Lidia Timoshenko. Their portraits of children and teenagers embody the open, sincere clarity of youth and its tranquility.
The second half of the 20th century is also represented in the museum’s collection by an incredible variety of names inseparably associated with artistic phenomena of those years.
Works by members of the legendary associations the Gruppa “Odinnadtsati” (Group of “Eleven”: Viktor Tiulenev, Zaven Arshakuni, Viktor Teterin, Valentina Rakhina, Konstantin Simun, and others) and the Gruppa vosmi – Lestnitsa (Group of Eight – Stairs: Nikolai Koshelkov, Anatoly Zaslavsky, Liubov Dobashina, Vladimir Dolgopolov, and others) demonstrate the creative quest of the 1960s and 1970s art scene. Underground Leningrad artists close to the circle of Pavel Kondratiev and Vladimir Sterligov are, likewise, well represented in the MASP collection in a broad gamut of genres.
The watershed decades of 1980s–1990s fostered a whole new breed of artists whose creative activity was incredibly prolific. In a relatively short span of time, hosts of associations and groupings formed: the Association of Experimental Fine Art, the Mitki, the Novye khudozhniki (New Artists), the Kochevie (Nomads), the Ozerki – Derevnia khudozhnikov (Ozerki – Artists’ Village) and more. The explosive energy of creative endeavour seems to have assaulted the artists’ consciousness, finding embodiment in restless, impulsive and at times eccentrically aggressive form. Those are the moods demonstrated in the works by Timur Novikov, Boris Koshelokhov, Marina Kaverzina, Viacheslav Afonichev, Valery Konevin, and Viktor Kuznetsov (aka Gipper Puper).
The 21st-century century realities have challenged the purposes and subject-matter of art, impelling artists to embrace new ideas. A different set of value-based notions and psychological approaches have moved the creative will and fantasies of artists onto the pop culture plane. Human life is treated as the venue of a spectacle or the domain of an intense, fascinating game not without its own depth and logic. Art is distinguished by visual acuity of forms that irritates the viewer's eye and accumulation of a vast diversity of reflections. Artists like Ilia Kreidun, Alexander Yeremin, Valeria Nibiru, Vasily Diakov, and Ivan Plusch pursue de-constructivist objectives in their work, paving the way to a world of paradoxical existence that uncontrollably influences artistic visualisation.
The 21st-century section of the MASP collection of St Petersburg art highlights some insular but important components of the general trend, illuminating the nature of definitive processes currently underway on the art scene.
The most recent addition to MASP, the body of artworks we call Non-Petersburg Art, added since 2017, deserves attention in its own right. These are gifts presented by artists from all over Russia and beyond who have participated in one or other of the museum’s projects. Going forward, this small subset of the exhibits will define the pace and direction of the entire collection, adding new dimensions and unlocking new horizons on the path towards grasping the essence and purpose of contemporary art and how it interacts with the museum world, having its national and geographic singularities.