VGLAZ Artist Collective
Glamorous Underground

27.09 – 06.11.2023
We are pleased to present a new project by VGLAZ Artist Collective, an autonomous art community that features more than 20 contemporary artists as members or collaborators.

The initiative, independent of any commercial or institutional influence, was first conceived in 2010, when artists Gosha Ostretsov, Georgy Litichevsky, Liudmila Konstantinova, the EliKuka group and the PG art group took up residence in the studios at the empty communal houses in Lebyazhy Lane, around the corner from the Kremlin. Soon, Sergey Pakhomov, Vikenti Nilin, Daria Krotova, Irina Korina, Olga Bozhko, Olya Kroitor, Dmitry Bulnygin, Natasha Struchkova, Kristina Yatkovskaya, Petr Bystrov, Roman Savchenko, Dmitry Kavka and many others joined the community.

The theme for the upcoming exhibition was proposed by the curator Gosha Ostretsov. Glamorous Underground is a playful make-believe oxymoron on account of the venue (the basement floor of a five-star hotel, once again only steps away from the Kremlin) on one hand, and the role that art still (or already?) plays in the inexplicable landscape of contemporary life, on the other.

Elvira Tarnogradskaya

There is an undeniable paradox in the fact that this text is composed by an individual who happens to be a member of an artist association that champions complete and total liberation of visual imagery from any verbal commentary, which is precisely what the very text is. The VGLAZ association emerged hand in hand with the eponymous magazine, in which, according to the plan of their mastermind Gosha Ostretsov, the title was supposed to be the only printed word (yet, the names of artists and work titles were still allowed). The contents of the new printed organ were supposed to feature works by artists united around the magazine. Only two issues were published (both in 2010), and only the pilot issue stayed within the boundaries of the original concept. In the following issue, nominally the first one, in which Mexican artists were introduced alongside the Russian ones, the verbal virus from another hemisphere already penetrated the initial concept of pure visuality by taking advantage of the soft hospitality customs. Perhaps it was precisely because this unfortunate experience knocked us for six – it is not at all easy to stand up for pure visuality! – the magazine ceased to exist, but the VGLAZ association survived and went on to develop, grow, and evolve.

The text I am writing at this moment should in no way be considered a case of a viral verbal attack. That is why I am going to try to be as brief as possible. In an ideal world, this would not be a text as such but some kind of a letter arrangement perceived solely as a visual image that was created using a keyboard as opposed to lines and stains. But I'll be honest and admit that this is still text and not a series of dots, circles, crosses, and noughts, or some such thing. And yet, it is not at all a description or explication, which, I emphasise, VGLAZ does not require – and never has. This is a verbal reflection, occurring in parallel to VGLAZ's activity, which, among other things, comprises a type of visual reflection in and of itself.

The movement that emerged in 2010 can certainly be regarded as a continuation of the trend towards rehabilitating fine art, which gained momentum in the rosy 80s. Back then strict conceptual art's logocentrism was contrasted with the playful excitement of post-conceptual New Wave with its course towards reinventing textured and plastic art. Some VGLAZ members were themselves at the epicentre of the New Wave explosion forty years ago. But although this connection can definitely be traced, to describe current artistic activity as reproduction of the 80s New Wave, albeit a new round of it, would be a gross simplification. New Wave possesses certain style features that cannot be found in every one of the VGLAZ artists' works. The present-day movement embraces a wide range of signature styles and artistic techniques and practices. Despite the differences in creative approaches, and sometimes even the apparent incompatibility, all the artists organically coexist within the association because they are united by a common cause.

This issue is not limited to the restoration of the rights of visual imagery after decades-long dominance of non-spectacularity and ophthalmophobia. The movement, which relies on direct and unconditional communication between the image and the viewer, articulates the dawn of a new stage in the millennia-long history of visuality. In Art and Illusion Ernst Gombrich suggested his version of this 'schemata', highlighting 'Egyptian' or schematic visuality (he defines it as 'conceptual', however, he also came up with the maxim 'every art is conceptual'), Greco-Renaissance or illusionist, and then the visuality of the modern age, predominantly expressionist. The VGLAZ movement incorporates the features of all the visuality types described by Gombrich, but the members of the association care more for the function of said visuality, not its type. Gosha Ostretsov usually describes this new function as 'picture thinking'. The artist's task is to make such a hit 'in the eye' (V glaz) that it would launch this very thinking mode.

And yet, no matter what you say, a great part of the mystery in what the VGLAZites do will remain unsolved, and this text is unlikely to clarify anything, perhaps it will even exacerbate the vague bewilderment of the viewer. It's best to forget everything written here and check out the exhibition and get your due dose of VGLAZ.

Georgy Litichevsky,
Artist, VGLAZ member since 2010

The VGLAZ Artist Collective came together in 2010 in every way due to the efforts of Gosha Ostretsov. Gosha, at his core, is an ebullient person – at the time he constantly surrounded himself with people, organised exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, parties. If that had not been enough, he also selflessly helped other like-minded artists – guided not by friendship but by his personal tastes. For reasons best known to himself, he would decide that N was a good artist, and start to promote him by all means available. In this sense, Gosha is an absolutely unique figure in the arts community. Without a second thought about his own career, he expended considerable time and energy on other artists, putting together their exhibitions, introducing them to his gallerists. About that time he introduced us to art dealer Elvira Tarnogradskaya, whose partner Dima was in charge of an empty building on Lenivka. And it was that house that became home to our studio, alongside those of Gosha himself and his wife Liudmila Konstantinova, Georgy Litichevsky, and the Elikuka group. At first, there was nothing to glue us together apart from Gosha's personality. But gradually we befriended the Elikuka duo, started popping to Georgy's studio for tea, and began to intermingle more. Gosha continued to look after all of us. For example, he inexplicably detected a traditional artist in me and taught me to stretch canvases, paint with acrylics, and do colour blending – basically, all the skills a painter requires.

Around the same time, Gosha came up with the idea to start publishing a magazine together, and all sorts of related meetings and briefings commenced. Gosha already had a long history of publishing a magazine of his own – when I first met him in 1998 he was publishing the Russian Jungle art mag together with Petya Shirkovsky. And we were publishing a literary and art yearbook titled PG at the time, so the idea of an art magazine looked attractive. When deciding on its name, I think I suggested Vrylo but in the end the more accurate name got the go-ahead – Vglaz.

This is how the magazine came to be and our community was born, which later evolved into the eponymous creative association, which occasionally holds shows of its own.

I introduced Gosha to Dima Bulnygin, who also joined in the VGLAZ projects; Pakhomych, to whom I've always harboured a degree of tenderness and warmth; Ira Korina, a unique individual, universally loved for her personality and her art – I've never met a single person who didn't like her; other artists joined us. Gradually, we built up internal cross-communications. As PG Group, we have been collaborating with Bulnygin for a long time, and Pakhom illustrated my Book of the Living.

To be honest, all of this was quite unexpected for me. We live at a time of commercialisation of art, when artists have almost nothing in common. In the past, we participated in group exhibitions, where artists brought together by a single curator simply popped round, installed their works, said hello – and sometimes didn't even say hello, – glanced sideways at their neighbours' works, projecting indifference or undisguised hostility – and left. While here we foster warm communication and shared activities. It is quite possible that ours is the only case of such a large number of artists uniting driven by personal initiative and not under the wing of a curator in the contemporary art scene. True, the times of Dadaists, Futurists, Imagists and other conceptual associations are long gone, but suddenly a community of aesthetically diverse artists sprang up, connected not by a shared approach to art but by warm personal relationships. This is already no mean feat.

Ilya Falkovsky, PG Group