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Artist Yevgeniy Fiks Asks the Question, Once More, "Is Modern Art Communistic?"

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Yevgeniy Fiks
Galerie Sator, Paris
January 14-March 3

The two decades that have passed since the Soviet Union's demise have rendered many aspects of Soviet patrimony less ideologically radioactive. This opens up the possibility of a fresh reassessment of the past. One inspired example of this sort of reappraisal is the work of New York-based Russian émigré Yevgeniy Fiks. Titled "Modern Art Shackled to Communism," after a little-known episode of Proto-Mccarthyism--a 1949 speech made by reactionary Republican congressman George Dondero attacking the institutions of modern art--this show offers an appropriate sobriquet for Fiks's whole oeuvre: his work lies at the intersection of the Foucauldian archeology of knowledge, microhistory, institutional critique, the performativity of critical nostalgia, and a wry bastard strain of (Moscow) conceptualism.

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Yevgeniy FIKS's "Drawings by Members of Communist Party of France: Maurice Thorez by Fernand Léger," 2010, ink on paper / Courtesy Galerie Sator

In addition to a sound installation featuring the congressional proceedings, the show includes a wall filled with mock broadsides of the Congressional Record festooned with the good congressman's accusations cut up into slogans. The piece is a cogent riposte to Alfred Barr's official response (in the guise of his famous 1952 text, "Is Modern Art Communistic?") and a continuation of Fiks's incursive guerrilla artwork, Communist Tour of MoMA, 2010. The current materialization of this project is a series of paintings featuring flamboyantly pro-communist proclamations by Picasso, Diego Rivera, Marc Chagall, and Frida Kahlo on red backgrounds. The statements may be interpreted as confirmation of Dondero's accusations or a testament to the reality of the times, but either way, it's impossible to look at them without thinking of a Sots-Art Ed Ruscha channeling a Kasimir Malevich color field.

The show's finale is the series of drawings, "Members of Communist Party of France," 2010. They're exact copies of portraits drawn by Fernand Léger and Picasso of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and French communist leader Maurice Thorez. The only alteration: The signatures have been removed and replaced with the simple tag, "communiste." By tying these pieces together, Fiks makes a comment on the leveling powers of historical bundling. The show is a testament to the importance of revisiting the often-simplistic and facile judgments of the cold war era and the value of reimagining the history of the Left from the standpoint of creative praxis.

Click on the slide show to see images from Yevgeniy Fiks's "Modern Art Shackled to Communism."

This article will appear in the May issue of Modern Painters magazine.

-Vladislav Davidzon, BLOUIN ARTINFO

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