The Clash

Perestroika be damned -- Russia is having one hell of a time coming to terms with the sweeping changes of recent years. Golden arches and white swooshes have kicked many traditional icons to the curb, a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by visual artist Oleg Yanushevsky. "Russia is open now. Everything's coming in," he says in an alluringly thick accent. He's made the confluence of traditional and commercial elements the focus of his latest, not-so-subtly ironic works.

"Saints and Microchips: Russian Icons of the XXI Century" showcases how Yanushevsky has become the master of a genre of his own creation: intricately detailed, mixed-media, faux religious relics. He's required to be a painter, a carpenter, an electrician and even a tailor for his pieces, most of which contain something old, something new, something borrowed and something glued. The works are mixed-media to the core, but that doesn't mean Yanushevsky is some kind of postmodern poseur who "cheats" his way around technique. His depictions of religious icons are so technically proficient that they look copied. Yet they're all his own.

Night Club Icon is an archetypal example of Yanushevsky's technique. It's an interpretation of the Last Supper, but this time J.C. and his cohorts are gathered around the table staring at a boombox. When the viewer pushes a button, lights flash and music blares. And that's not all. We don't want to give everything away, so let's just say there are a couple more elements of the nightclub experience embedded in the painting that merit a closer look. Trust us.

It's not too difficult to see why many of Yanushevsky's countrymen have a beef with some of the supposedly sacrilegious juxtapositions in his paintings: Jesus with a Walkman; saints drinking Coca-Cola; spinning heads of religious archetypes; a portrait of Madonna next to the Madonna. Yet Yanushevsky swears he's just trying to "connect images, to find the form inside of all forms, to find a categorical connection between nowadays and past cultural heritage."

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Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek