Oleg Vassiliev - The John L. Stewart Collection of Russian Contemporary Art London Friday, October 12, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Exhibited

    Ridgefield (Connecticut), Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Adaptation & Negation of Socialist Realism, June 9 – October 7, 1990; Santiago de Compostela, Auditoria de Galicia, No Vacio, Artistas Rusos Contemporaneos, May 11 – June 30, 1991

  • Catalogue Essay

    'Window' is one of the most vivid and color-laden works of Oleg Vassiliev, the embodiment of his concept whereby the precise reproduction of reality is superimposed on the task of structuring the ideal painting space. An iridescent sparkling light coming from some unknown place but penetrating from the corners of the painting, floods, dissolves, literally bathes the landscape that is painted on a square canvas, the road departing into the depths of the forest. In the middle of the painting there is another square, a fragment – a transparent barrier beyond which there is no strange light, but there is a cloudy sky, potholes in the road, trees. The painting was done in 1988 a few years before Oleg Vassiliev’s emigration, at the peak of his artistic career when Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika had sharply changed the life of unofficial artists: accustomed to virtually total isolation, Oleg Vassiliev found himself in demand, he began to exhibit actively, to travel around the world. Despite the closed, almost hermetic creative system of Vassiliev, who had worked on similar tasks almost his entire life, the paintings done during these years turned out to be more lively, more ingenious than what he had done before; they are brighter and more optimistic than the works of his later émigré period. In 'Window' there is not the tension of the ‘times under censorship,’ there is not the gloomy reflection of his later paintings when traditional landscapes of the Earth’s temperate zone turned into an object of nostalgia. “In Vassiliev’s works, two opposite and even, at first glance, mutually exclusive tendencies are combined in a paradoxical way. On the one hand, there is the striving toward the maximal objectivity of the depiction that demands scrupulous, almost documentary precision, a desire to completely avoid personal, artistic interference, because it directly violates, deforms this objectivity. On the other hand, what is depicted is only that which has been personally experienced by the artist. It is namely this personal experience that he is attempting to express.(…) He wants to preserve what has made an impression on him precisely as it was in real life, at the moment of the encounter, of the spark that remains in the memory forever.” (E. Bulatov “About Oleg Vassiliev”, Oleg Vassiliev Window of Memory, Moscow, 2005, pp. 7-8.) One of the most significant artists of the unofficial circle, a friend and comrade-in-arms of Ilya Kabakov and Erik Bulatov, Vassiliev seems to be the most traditional of them. His landscapes are similar to, sometimes to the point of being totally indistinguishable from, the Russian landscape school that didn’t change much during the Soviet period. He is sincerely captivated by the copying of nature, landscape studies; he inscribes the tiniest details of living nature with virtuosity. But Vasiliev fills the lyrical depiction of the modest, plain nature of the temperate zone with his own complex meanings and superimposes them on his exploration of the qualities of the painting surface. He is interested in the organization of the planes, the space, the surface and borders of the painting, the system of visual interaction between it and the viewer. All of his life he has drawn support from and developed the ideas of his teacher, the graphic artist and theoretician V.A. Favorsky who had worked on theories of the structuring of a two-dimensional work, of the influence of the surface of the canvas or paper on the space of the work, its depth. Unlike his colleagues-non-conformists, Vassiliev is rarely interested in social and political materials. His main theme is existential, always closely connected with the real visual image that exists in nature and is located literally before our eyes (the view from the window, the path and the forest in the area of a village house). A fragment torn by our sight from the full fabric of life becomes the basis of the painting into which Vassiliev breathes an inner meaning, a light energy that transforms the simple plot into a surrealist story-hoax, a clear image into a brainteaser. Vassiliev never refers to the mystical nature of this light, he is much more concerned with the effect that it produces in the painting. The very idea of a light incursion emerged from the idea of the painting as a fragment: “Just like our Earth flies in the flood of sunlight, that is how the painting in its capacity as an object can be submerged in a flood of light, the source of which is located outside, it is bigger than the painting...”. Window is the continuation of more than twenty years of work on the theme of spaces-surface that is so important for Vassiliev: the space that is departing into the distance and the light-laden transparent surface that emerges in it from an unknown place. Not burdened with additional meanings, figures, signs, images of the current time, this painting turned out to be one of the purest variations of this theme: simply light, landscape and a spectral exit from a square window that seems ostensibly cut through the surface of the painting – an exit from the artificial world to the real one. “Here is the profoundly fundamental notion that in this so-called ‘life’ there is nothing...and ‘there is’ emerges only under the ray of consciousness directed at it, under its ‘light’...“There is” means merely to be in “the light of consciousness,” whereas everything that is not in this ‘light’ is gloom and
    non-existence.The appearance of ‘something depicted’ in the paintings of O. Vassiliev is tormenting. It can appear, ‘be seen’ only by him himself, it can arise only in the light of his consciousness and efforts, in his own ‘vision.’ ‘To see’ – here in the literal sense is to be ‘illuminated,’ ‘to be lit up.’...And he, as a rule, can illuminate a little bit, but not everything." (I. Kabakov., 60’s-70’s Notes on Unofficial Life in Moscow, Vienna, 1999, pp. 70-71.) - Faina Balakhovskaya



Oil on canvas.
39 x 39 in. (99.1 x 99.1 cm).
Signed and dated “Vassiliev 89 [in Cyrillic]” lower right; signed, titled and dated “O. Vassiliev Window 1989 [in Cyrillic]” on the reverse.

£90,000 - 120,000 ‡♠

Sold for £156,000

The John L. Stewart Collection of Russian Contemporary Art

13 October 2007, 6pm