What's up in Chelsea?


             Robert Sievert

Walking around Chelsea on a cold rain afternoon there were few art lovers to be seen. There were a few galleries open at 529 west 20th St. My friend and I made our way to the 11th floor to start our tour of the building..

We encountered the work of Timur Novikov at the 1-20 Gallery. Its unfamiliar materials combined with its unusual subject matter gave it an engaging air. On the wall was a sign that said "Russian Saints". The art was small photographs mounted on fabric much larger than the photos. In the photographs were saintly Russian figures, some in clerical garb, some in austere civvies, yet on each face was a look of absolute piety. The sort of piety I aspired to in my Roman Catholic youth, knowing that I would never achieve it and yet wanting it desperately.

These photos were quite penetrating and powerful. I will go further and say that they were so strong that they were off-putting. But yet Novikov's presentation of somehow neutralized them. He made them approachable by the insane mounting of them on the most cheeseiest of fabrics. The fabric was completely synthetic. Clearly belonging to the world of plastic and metallica, no lush natural fiber, no soft downy ambience, The fabric was probably what is used as alter vestments in poor Eastern Orthodox Churches. It was pink and gold, with ornate crucifixes and other liturgical figures running through it.

The eight by ten photos were mounted on sheets of fabric about 4' x 9'. To secure the photo to the fabric a dark ribbon with Russian characters woven into them was sewn around each one. The craft was impressive as the ribbon seemed very carefully secured and at each corner the ribbon was exactly stitched.

While the show as a whole seemed somehow awkward at first, upon consideration I think the artist was able to present some very archaic and deeply ethnic material (The Saints) in a way that one could peek at them and then get relief in the total superficiality of the fabric.

This work for some reason reminded me of the early work of Robert Smithson, now a patron saint of the Avante Garde. (If there is any Avante Garde left.) In the early sixties when I knew him he was making shopping expeditions to Woolworth's (you remember them) to buy the tackiest things he could find, artificial fur, plastic ribbons and the like which he could transform into art that looked like no others. He had a real sense of individuality.

Novikov's work could be seen in this same context, one searching for individuality through use of truly bizarre materials and truly extreme subject matter. Bob (Smithson) would have liked it; he would have called it "advanced." I must admit a certain awe for its outrageousness and its defiance of the notion of art as an object of lasting value.

1999 Robert Seivert