The sell­ing of the Cold War and the Red Men­ace

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - BY MARK JENK­INS

“A lie told of­ten enough be­comes the truth” is the tagline for a mock department-store ad­ver­tise­ment with a fa­mil­iar emblem. In­spired by Macy’s red star, Rus­sian Amer­i­can D.C. artist Mark Kel­ner re­made the re­tailer’s logo as “Lenin’s” and placed it be­low the dic­ta­tor’s en­dorse­ment of the Big Lie. At a time when the words “Rus­sia” and “lie” are cen­tral to U.S. po­lit­i­cal dis­course, the joke is so apt that it’s not funny.

Kel­ner and Yev­geniy Fiks ex­plore all sorts of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions in “Red!! Rus­sian-Amer­i­can XXI c. Vi­sions,” at Ge­orge Ma­son Uni­ver­sity’s Atrium Gallery. The show over­laps, in spirit if not spe­cific artists, with “Age of Aquire’us,” at Charles Krause/Re­port­ing Fine Art, which draws on the for­mer foreign cor­re­spon­dent’s col­lec­tion (not for sale) of proand anti-Soviet art.

At a Feb. 15 artists’ talk, Kel­ner and the New York-based Fiks were joined by Vi­taly Ko­mar, a Rus­sian “non­con­formist” artist who took refuge in the United States in 1978, 16 years be­fore Fiks. Upon ar­rival here, Ko­mar re­called, he no­ticed “a sim­i­lar struc­ture” to com­mu­nist pro­pa­ganda and cap­i­tal­ist ad­ver­tis­ing. Kel­ner plays on that affin­ity by re­mak­ing Mc­Don­ald’s, Marl­boro and “got milk?” lo­gos in the style of Soviet-era avant-garde artist Kaz­imir Male­vich. Kel­ner also de­signs fake fash­ion ads that meld Dada (the ab­sur­dist art move­ment), Prada (the Ital­ian de­sign com­pany) and Pravda (the of­fi­cial news­pa­per whose Rus­sian name means “truth,” although that was not its spe­cialty). These clev­erly sim­u­lated pieces il­lus­trate how ideas are sold as prod­ucts, and prod­ucts as ideas.

Fiks also em­ploys text and found images, but his “Red!!” work fo­cuses on a spe­cific chap­ter of Cold War his­tory. In the early 1950s, fear of the Soviet bomb some­how fused with ho­mo­pho­bia, yield­ing ar­ti­cles with such ti­tles as “Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity Is Stalin’s Atom Bomb to De­stroy Amer­ica.” Fiks presents nine pho­tos of the first pub­lic Soviet A-bomb test, over­laid with anti-gay com­ments by U.S. politi­cians of the era. He also pho­tographed a six-foot-high mush­room-cloud cutout that he posed around the District in places known as gay pickup spots dur­ing Stalin’s reign. Sus­pi­cion and se­crecy poi­son the per­sonal as well as the po­lit­i­cal.

The Krause show is di­vided among Soviet pro­pa­ganda, non­con­formist art and re­cent Amer­i­can work. The first group mostly ex­tols vic­tory in war and ath­let­ics but also in­cludes at­tacks on re­li­gion. (“Pro­tect our chil­dren from the claws of priests,” in­structs one poster.)

The sec­ond sec­tion fea­tures work by sev­eral creators who, like Kel­ner and Ko­mar, were in­flu­enced by Amer­i­can pop art. A print by Es­to­nia’s Leon­hard Lapin de­picts com­mu­nism as a ma­chine for turn­ing peo­ple into ma­chine parts. Vladislav Mamy­shev-Monroe’s por­trait of him­self as Andy Warhol is from a se­ries in which he ap­pro­pri­ated, and some­times cross-pol­li­nated, the iden­ti­ties of Western celebri­ties and Soviet au­to­crats. The artist (whose sur­name was then just Mamy­shev) was in­spired to wed Hol­ly­wood and the Krem­lin when he was in­tro­duced to his muse, Mar­i­lyn Monroe, in a class about “vic­tims of cap­i­tal­ism.”

The stark­est piece is Maxim Kan­tor’s large etch­ing “The Lonely Crowd,” made just as the Soviet Union col­lapsed. The de­pic­tion of maimed and tor­tured ci­ti­zens has a Goya-like in­ten­sity.

The last sec­tion re­vis­its items from the pre-elec­tion “Artists United” show Krause or­ga­nized at Bus­boys and Po­ets. The work refers to con­tem­po­rary and mostly Amer­i­can is­sues, but the gal­lerist sees a con­ti­nu­ity be­tween Soviet non­con­formists and these naysay­ers: The lat­ter make the sort of art that, Krause writes, “would al­most cer­tainly be banned if Pres­i­dent Trump were to act on some of the threats he made dur­ing the cam­paign.”

Red!! Rus­sian-Amer­i­can XXI c. Vi­sions: Yev­geniy Fiks and Mark Kel­ner On view through March 10 at Atrium Gallery, Ma­son Hall, Ge­orge Ma­son Uni­ver­sity, 4400 Uni­ver­sity Dr., Fair­fax. 202-213-6272. event/red-rus­sian-amer­i­can-xxi-cvi­sions.

Age of Aquire’us On view through March 13 at Charles Krause/ Re­port­ing Fine Art at Dacha Loft, 1602 Sev­enth St. NW, Sec­ond floor. 202638-3612. charleskrause­fin­

Cre­atively We Unite

A sense of tra­di­tion an­i­mates much of the art in “Cre­atively We Unite,” Zenith Salon’s Black His­tory Month show. Yet the work is sel­dom tra­di­tional in form. Among the 14 mostly lo­cal con­trib­u­tors is Mali-born sculp­tor Ibou N’Di­aye, who uses the same sort of tools his an­ces­tors did to craft exquisitely de­tailed fig­ures in hard­woods such as ebony. But Chris Malone’s mixed-me­dia dolls draw on di­verse African and Asian cus­toms, blended with a play­ful vigor that yields a style all his own. Equally sin­gu­lar is Anne Bouie’s six-foot-high “An­ces­tral Totem,” which in­vokes a rus­tic past with el­e­ments in­clud­ing dried seed pods.

Com­mu­nity is an­other theme, ren­dered most im­me­di­ate in Robert Free­man’s ex­pres­sion­ist paint­ings of black cou­ples and groups. Other par­tic­i­pants rep­re­sent his­tor­i­cal fel­low­ship. Glo­ria Kirk’s col­lages in­cor­po­rate old post­cards, family pho­tos and small pieces of jew­elry; many of these ob­jects were in­her­ited from her mother. Cur­tis Woody uses a sim­i­lar tech­nique in what he calls “mixed me­dia quilt paint­ings,” but more point­edly. One piece here in­cludes slav­ery ar­ti­facts, no­tably a bill of sale for a “wench.” The family story he tells is one of destruction and ex­ploita­tion.

Cre­atively We Unite On view through March 11 at Zenith Salon, 1429 Iris St. NW. 202-783-2963. zenith­

Post Me­mory

Heir­loom pho­tos also fea­ture in “Post Me­mory,” a four-woman show at Betty Mae Kramer Gallery. Miriam Morsel Nathan made mul­ti­ple gum-trans­fer prints of a vin­tage shot of a Prague wed­ding, swathing one in mesh to sug­gest the haze of his­tory. Muriel Has­bun’s close­ups of her late mother and her be­long­ings rep­re­sent the loss of a lifelong re­la­tion­ship with a few de­tails: loops of gray hair, fin­gers hold­ing a faded pho­to­graphic por­trait. The ca­su­al­ties are as much cul­tural as human in Bon­nie B. Col­lier’s pho­to­col­lages, which place an­tique peo­ple in front of re­cent images of tum­ble­down small-town build­ings.

The show’s sub­ti­tle de­scribes the pictures as of “a cer­tain place and time,” but Kaitlin Jencso’s are in­trigu­ingly un­cer­tain. The cryp­tic scenes ap­pear con­tem­po­rary and gen­er­ally have a human pres­ence. Yet the peo­ple are sil­hou­et­ted, in shadow or turned away from the cam­era. The sto­ries hid­den in these pho­tos are not for­got­ten. They’re sim­ply un­know­able.

Post Me­mory: Pho­to­graphs of a Cer­tain Place & Time On view through March 4 at Betty Mae Kramer Gallery, One Veter­ans Place, Sil­ver Spring. 301-565-3805. cre­ative­ style@wash­


Mark Kel­ner’s “Prav­dada” (2012), inkjet print, on view in “Red!! Rus­sian-Amer­i­can XXI c. Vi­sions,” at Ge­orge Ma­son Uni­ver­sity’s Atrium Gallery.

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