Pavel Peppertein, 'Expedition into the Sun', 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 160 x 220 cm. Courtesy Pavel Pepperstein - Kewenig. © Pavel Pepperstein.
Pavel Peppertein, "Stepping on the Suprema" (Marcher sur le suprématisme), 2015. Acrylique sur toile. 90 x 120 cm. Courtesy Pavel Pepperstein - Kewenig.
Pavel Peppertein, 'Overpopulation of the Earth', 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 160 x 220 cm. Courtesy Pavel Pepperstein - Kewenig. © Pavel Pepperstein.
Pavel Peppertein, 'In the Year 2258 astronomers of the Earth discovered the new planet in our galaxy. They named it Mirror. All the planet is covered with layer of black methane ice which has absolutely smooth surface with high reflection quality. In the Year 2210 the group of astronauts died there, killed by their own reflections', 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 200 cm. Courtesy Pavel Pepperstein - Kewenig.
Pavel Peppertein, 'Hercules and his teacher Centaurus', 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 150 cm. Courtesy Pavel Pepperstein - Kewenig.
Pavel Pepperstein, 'El Lissitzky Highway in the Alps in the year 2219', 2015. Oil on canvas. 150 x 200 cm. Courtesy : Pavel Pepperstein – Kewenig,Berlin | Palma. © Pavel Pepperstein.
Born in 1966 in Moscow, Pavel Pepperstein graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 1987. As a multifaceted artist, he explores different means of expression as novel, rap, video, drawing, and painting. In 1988, he cofounded the experimental group of artists called "Inspection Medical Hermeneutics"1 (Pavel Pepperstein, Sergei Anufriev, Yuri Liederman); Liederman was replaced in 1991 by Vladimir Fedorov. At the time, they were the heirs of Russian conceptual art of the 1960s.
The group broke up in 2001. It was during that period that Pepperstein laid the foundations of his artistic practice; it consisted in great part of an ironic sending up of ideologies, criticism and artistic themes.
This exhibition at the Museum presents some twenty of Pepperstein’s pictures from between 2014 and 2015.
THE INSPECTION MEDICAL HERMENEUTICS GROUP
The group was formed at the end of the 1980s when the members were going through an ‘idle’ period. The group had noted that, during 'glasnost'2, a period of democratisation and freedom of expression, painters were working, either consciously or unconsciously, to satisfy the taste of Westerners who had come specially to look at Russian art. In order to resist the general tendency to fabricate paintings, the artists of the group felt it was necessary to discuss and to record what they called ‘diversionary discourses’ on important ideas such as faith, love, equality, intelligence, honesty, conscience, and freedom.
The idea of ‘inspection’ grew out of these ‘diversionary discourses’. And from that point on, members of the group set about inspecting everything: breweries, Metro stations, railway stations, exhibitions, the studios of painter friends, and so on.
They took on the role of ‘inspectors’ and made it their business to judge and to give marks, proceeding without any precise rules and acting in a totally subjective manner. It was a way for them to exempt themselves from the formal codes of culture, a way of putting ironic distance between themselves and public discourse and to use that distance to enhance their analytic critical position.
After this period of reflection, they resumed their artistic activities. Through conferences, performances, debates, installations and conceptual works, the 'Inspection Medical Hermeneutics' group raised questions about how to articulate and interpret the various signs of what they judged to be a sick Russian culture. They steered away from univocal definitions of the various cultural codes by twisting them and inventing new ones.
LITERATURE, THE BACKBONE OF RUSSIAN CULTURE
From the very outset, the fundamental place and the impact of language were at the epicentre of the activities of the 'Inspection Medical Hermeneutics' group, and the idea remains characteristic of Pavel Pepperstein’s work to this day. In parallel with his drawings and paintings, Pepperstein writes novels and short stories and he does so because he feels that literature is the backbone of Russian culture. He explains that literature provides the structure from philosophy and the plastic arts. Philosophy, he maintains, is present in novels in the dialogue between the characters; the plastic arts are a series of illustrations of what literature itself illustrates. Accordingly, some of the paintings in this exhibition are directly linked to short stories written by Pavel Pepperstein. They are taken from his book The Secret of Our Time.
This is the case with his work 'Overpopulation of the Earth', which illustrates the short story of the same name. The author-artist advances the hypothesis that the overpopulation of the planet Earth, even if it leads to the destruction of the biosphere, is not necessarily a bad thing. Humanity could be programmed to become the Anthropos, a giant body totally enclosing the globe and which would replace the biosphere. It would be provided with its own breathing and reproduction system by renewal of the cells that make it up; these cells being human beings in osmosis with one another.
In another short story entitled 'The Mirror Planet', Pavel Pepperstein once again raises questions about humanity through the image of astronomers exploring a recently discovered planet which has been kept secret. Its surface, like a black and perfectly smooth mirror, sends back the astronomers’ own reflection. In the course of their expedition to this planet, the men gradually realise that their reflections have become autonomous and taken on lives of their own, while they themselves lose their energy and end up dying.
FROM SUPREMATISM TO MASS CULTURE
Some of Pavel Pepperstein’s paintings refer directly to Suprematism, the avant-garde Russian artistic movement at the beginning of the 20th century. That movement, whose figurehead was Kazimir Malevich, tended to assert the purity of the painting space and its detachment from all reality. The artists asserted the sovereignty of abstract and geometrical form (square, rectangle, circle, cross, triangle, et cetera) and used bright, unequivocal colours, frequently on a white background. Pavel Pepperstein diverts the formal language of Suprematism by integrating geometric shapes into figurative paintings.
For example, in his work 'Hercules and his teacher Centaurus', he combines formal codes of Suprematism with other artistic languages. The nature of the drawing, the handwriting, as well as the stains and drippings of paint over the canvas, all imitate the school exercise books illustrated. Here, the Suprematist shapes look like stickers that Hercules has stuck into his exercise book. Amongst other shapes there is a black square which recalls Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting 'Black Square'.
In his spoof manifesto3, written in 2008, Pavel Pepperstein talks about doing Suprematism, calling it 'National Suprematism' and, in a parody of Cold War ideological and political conflict, announcing it as a competitor to American Pop Art. The result is that some of his paintings look as if they have used the popular aesthetic of Russian posters - the counterpart of American advertising images.
Lóránd Hegyi, director of the museum and curator of the exhibition, describes Pavel Pepperstein as a ‘young artist, actually a mature man, who is also a thinker and a profoundly subtle lyrical poet. This brilliant, virtuoso draughtsman is also a gifted humourist and a melancholy chansonnier with a gift for ironic criticism. He is a sensitive, intelligent storyteller who uses his drawings, his verses and his pictures to confront us with dense, complex situations, pregnant with historical, political and cultural references […].4
(1) Hermeneutics (from the Greek "hermêneuein", to explain) the theory of the interpretation of signs as the symbolic elements of a culture.
(2) Glasnost: in the former Soviet Union, a policy of transparency in public life introduced in 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev to accompany a change in the economic structure of the country (Perestroika).
(3) Pavel Pepperstein, 'Manifesto EITHER-OR, National Suprematism as the Project of a New Representative Style for Russia', 2008.
(4) Lóránd Hegyi, 'Le poète Pavel Pepperstein, Ironie de la post-avant-garde ou mélancolie de la diaspora', in catalogue: Pavel Pepperstein, The Cold Center of the Sun. Short Stories, 2015, Hatje Cantz.